Classical Reviews - Composers & Works
Saturday, 23 November 2013
Graham Gordon Ramsay (b. 1962) was educated at Boston University and the Fontainebeau School and is active in the Boston, Massachusetts area. In addition to his work as a composer, Ramsay is also a professional photographer in both commercial and fine art fields; he has taught photography at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and much of his music is inspired by what he calls a visual approach. He writes: “I have always been attracted to musical works that tell specific stories or describe physical objects or spaces.” This is the second full CD on Albany devoted to Ramsay’s work—a previous disc of choral and vocal music was released in 2011. Though trained as a vocalist in school, Ramsay began early on collaborating closely with instrumental performers in the creation of new works, and this has remained his preferred working method. This album, entitled Compendium , contains purely instrumental works that encompass his entire professional career. Ramsay’s style is freely tonal, with a particularly excellent sensitivity to “harmonic timbre” (how the harmonic language of a piece sounds within the combination of the instruments in use). Ramsay’s attentiveness to the complete range of possibilities of the instruments allows all the music to unfold with tremendous naturalness while never seeking simply to exploit instrumental techniques for their own sake. It is carefully made, thoughtful music that impresses with its balance between depth of content and expressive effect.
Highlights of the album include the varied Six Preludes (2012) for piano and a lovely violin and piano Elegy (2008), written in memory of the musicologist John Daverio. The composer talks at length in the booklet notes about the specific programmatic and visual inspirations for Four Autumn Sketches (2005), each movement being inspired by a particular New England place. Though it is interesting, one does not necessarily need to pay attention to the commentary to enjoy the resulting piece, which satisfies on purely musical terms as well, possessing as it does consistently engaging material and a natural logic. The composer-supervised performances are all excellent. In only one case is a performer (the flutist) different from the person for whom the piece was originally written. Warmly recommended.