I love it when everything about a CD I’m hearing or a
DVD that I’m watching seems to be “right.” This would
appear to be the case with “Fast Fantasy,” an
installment in the “Charles Wuorinen Series,” released
in 2004 on the Albany Records label.

Charles Wuorinen (1938 – ) has been an active
composer for his entire life, having written his first
composition as a young boy. Based in the New York
area where he was born, his works have been
commissioned and performed by many of the
world’s leading musicians and ensembles. In 1970,
he became the youngest composer to win the
Pulitzer Prize. Wuorinen also happens to be a fine
pianist and conductor, and is a Professor of Music
at Rutgers University.

At least since the 1960’s, Wuorinen’s music has
been predominantly, if not entirely, in the serial
idiom. This is probably the reason he hasn’t achieved
the mainstream popularity afforded other composers
who have adopted a more “audience-friendly” style.
Wuorinen has written music in virtually all genres,
and has often been referred to as a “maximalist,”
a moniker that no doubt addresses his abundance
of ideas and the sheer activity found in his music.
It certainly demands  involvement and focus from
the listener, not to mention the performer(s).
I’ve found that concentrated listening to Wuorinen’s
works is rewarding. However, due to the
challenging nature of his compositions, his primary
audience will probably always be limited in number.

The “rightness” of this CD is due to several factors:
First, the seven pieces contained herein are dedicated
to and performed by cellist Fred Sherry, a longtime
Wuorinen collaborator who has championed the
works of many contemporary composers. Sherry
has worked with many of these composers and
given numerous premieres of their music. Second,
Sherry is joined by Wuorinen at the piano for three
of these pieces. The fabulous results also give these
works an extra stamp of authenticity. The three
works for cello and piano are “Fast Fantasy,”
“An Orbicle of Jasp,” and “Andante Espressivo.”
These pieces are interspersed with “Cello Variations,”
“Cello Variations II” and “Cello Variations III” for
solo cello. The CD concludes with “Grand Union,”
for cello and drums, featuring percussionist
Tom Kolor.

All of these pieces are typical of works by Wuorinen
in that they are technically challenging, requiring
sensitive, virtuosic performances. Without these
gifted players, the music would be pointless for
both the performer and the listener. In fact, it still
doesn’t “go down easy,” despite the talents of
those involved. Fortunately, everyone here is up
to the challenges presented by this music, and the
recording engineers did a wonderful job of
capturing these sessions, which were taped
between 1993 and 2002. As noted above, the
works were written for Sherry, and were
composed by Wuorinen between 1970 and 2001.

At a running time of 78 minutes, this generous
CD has everything to commend it. Although the
pieces aren’t discussed in the accompanying
booklet, it does include biographies of the
musicians, a short tribute to Sherry by the
composer, and specific dates of the compositions,
premiere performance and recording dates, as
well as venues.

This disc is worthy of the highest marks. I’m looking
forward to checking out the other CDs in this series,
as I have every reason to believe they will at least
contain highly credible performances. What better
way to be challenged musically?