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Jon Deak: Symphonic Tales

review jon deak x1 cong

This entertaining album stands repeated listens; Deak is a man who clearly enjoys his music. He is the young composers advocate of the New York Philharmonic, where he founded the award-winning Very Young Composers Program in 1995. His interest in making music accessible to younger listeners is clear.

Two of the works are for full orchestra, one is for an ensemble of flute and piano, and the opening work is for solo contrabass, with the composer as soloist and narrator.

As well as working with kids, Deak is an environmental advocate and wilderness mountaineer and the first track BB Wolf (An Apologia) reflects all this, being a defence of the BB (big bad) creature of folk tales. Narrating in an exaggerated Noo Yoik accent, Deak recounts seeing magnificent wild creatures while out hiking, and ponders why the wolf is seen as bad.

The shorthand in cartoons for a baddie is a wolf, yet a close relative is man’s best friend, wolves raised Mowgli and as well as catching rats and pulling sleds, wolves can “suckle the founder fathers of your basic major European city”.

Deak plays the contrabass in the first piece, taking in every style of music known to man and wolf, and a few others besides, from mournful classical to cartoon sound effects, an aeroplane, Beethoven and a wonderful blues section.

First play through, the mix of narration and music suggested a one-time appeal but we’ve found ourselves turning to this often. It’s interesting. The message might be serious but the delivery is aimed at satisfying adults and appealing to kids.

Elsewhere there is a good retelling of The Snow Queen, this being the finale of a longer piece, The Ice Palace, the narration obviously picking up most of the way through Hans Christian Andersen’s original seven stories. This is more of a symphonic piece with words than BB Wolf’s words with music, and very dramatic it is.

The final piece is The Legend of Spuyten Duyvil, based on a stretch of river in Manhattan called Spuyten Duyvil (“Spitting Devil” in Dutch), a corruption of an oath muttered by Anthony Van Corlaer, a celebrated trumpeter at the Dutch garrison on Manhattan Island in the days of Peter Stuyvesant. “Even in the descriptions … in the history books, he appears to combine some of the qualities of Paul Revere, Saint Gabriel and King Henry VIII,” writes Deak in the sleeve notes.

The track we are least impressed with is Bye-Bye!, for flute and piano, based on a Haitian folk tale, though not enough to ever skip it.

Out on Naxos, 8.559785. Older children and young at heart adults should enjoy this.


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