American Record Guide reviews Michael Gandolfi: Y2K Compliant

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American Record Guide
Allen Gimbel
September 1, 2008

Three orchestral works by Michael Gandolfi, composer of The Garden of Cosmic Speculation (M/J 2008). In his highly useful notes, Robert Kirzinger knights Gandolfi "master of innumerable compositional approaches", purveyor of a technical and stylistic smorgasbord that will at least partly please everybody. As with Cosmic Speculation, there is great skill on display, though what this display of variety adds up to is anybody's guess.

The program opens with Points of Departure (1988), a four-movement work in American graduate school style, cleanly 12-tone, colorfully orchestrated, somewhat anonymous, but commanding one's attention in spite of itself. Each movement contains brief musical phrases suggesting "points of departure" for the following movement, hence the title. These points, alas, don't especially demand continuation.

In complete stylistic contrast, Themes from a Midsummer Night are nine pleasant tonal fragments of incidental music from a production of the Shakespeare play in Lenox, Massachusetts in the summer of 2001. The little pieces are inspired, mostly very brief, and quite disarming. Some are lifted from previous works by the composer.

Finally, Y2K Compliant (2000), the title track, is a vibrant three-movement sinfonietta filled with impressive craftsmanship and engaging ideas. The first movement is an energetic toccata taking basic musical elements studied in a freshman theory class and building from them a sparkling concert opener. The slow movement brings to mind Elgar and has an organ music-like texture (the composer has the synthesizer in mind). The finale is a joyful dance with plenty of canonic writing and a closing quotation of Bach's chorale 'In dulci jubilo'. Mr. Gandolfi seems to have left atonality behind him, using it for special occasions only, and has followed most of his compositional colleagues onto the tonal gravy train. That seems to be where his heart lies, and I look forward to hearing more of his work as his future projects allow him a more personal expression.