from the Amazon.com Web page for the album being discussed
This past August MSR Classics released an album of chamber music for strings composed by Judith Lang Zaimont. The string players were the members of the Amernet String Quartet, violinists Misha Vitenson and Franz Felkl, violist Michael Klotz, and cellist Jason Calloway. Almost all the selections were being given world premiere recordings, the last of which saw pianist John Wilson playing with Vitenson in a performance of Zaimont’s “Sonata-Rhapsody,” in which the pianist is more partner than accompanist. Drawing upon the quartet’s name, the album was cleverly titled A to Z.
The most recent work on this new recording is “A Strange Magic,” the title of Zaimont’s second string quartet, completed in 2016. The oldest dates from 1998 and has been previously recorded on the album Pure Colors. It is the second “Sestina” movement from the three-movement cello solo composition “’Tanya’ Poems.” The other compositions on the album are the earlier 2008 string quartet, entitled “The Figure” (2008), “Verse” for solo violin, from the same year, and the 2010 “Sonata-Rhapsody.”
I have to say that my personal overall impression of this album appreciated much of the diversity that cuts across these five selections. Nevertheless, it was hard to avoid an underlying reverberation of familiarity. This paradox was resolved when I visited Zaimont’s Wikipedia page. I discovered there that she was less than a year older than me and that there was a very generous list of composers that served as influences. It was no surprise that none of those names were unfamiliar to me, leading me to conclude that, while she may have been the one with composition skills, I was the one with the listening experiences that were probably shared with her. (I also suspect that I could add a name or two to those enumerated on her Wikipedia page.)
As a result, I found it hard to resist the feeling that each of the compositions on this album had its own way of being derivative from past twentieth-century compositions. The derivations themselves were well-wrought by consistent skill sets. Nevertheless, each listening experience left me wondering, “Why I am listening to this, when listening to [fill in the derivation source] is so much more satisfying?” It also left me appreciating that I allowed my own meager skills at composition to lapse, preferring, instead, to cultivate my listening skills.