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"Rick Sowash: Sanctuary at 3 am"

by Ray Silvertrust, The Chamber Music Journal

Rick Sowash (1950-), whose works, in my opinion, deserve to be as well-known as any of those of his contemporaries, is alive and composing in Ohio. His most recent CD Sanctuary at 3 am (Rick Sowash Publishing Company--www.sowash.com) appeared earlier this year and features two very attractive chamber works. The first is Impressionist Suite No.2 for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon. (readers may recall that we reviewed Impressionist Suite No.1 for this same combination in Vol.XIV No.4) This work was composed in 2000 for the French woodwind trio Le Trio d'anches Ozi. Originally it was in six movements but Sowash felt it was too long and decided to make two three movement suites out of it. The first movement of the second suite is entitled Cassatt: A Lullabye. But the mood is not really that of a traditional lullabye. Rather, it comes closer to what one might experience on a slow but pleasant, sunny afternoon's walk through a park or meadow with no particular destination in mind. All three instruments seamlessly weave the fabric of a pastoral theme. A brief section in the middle is a bit more sprightly. Then comes a lovely woodwind chorale. In the end, the music simply wafts away into thin air.

In the second movement, Caillebotte: Precision, the oboe slowly begins alone repeating a diffident motif. As the others join in, the tempo picks up a little but the music wanders on dreamlike, floating here and there. I am not sure I felt any sense of precision so much as a careful working out of ideas slowly being built block by logical block. At the very end, four chords are slowly sounded, the second in minor. The third and fourth chords begin the resolution which a fifth chord would finish. But it never comes, leaving the movement to end up in the air, provocatively unresolved. The concluding Sisley & Bazille: Joyful Skies, Lament for the Fallen begins with a jaunty dance which is quite fetching, no doubt the joyful skies. A kind of syncopated, almost jazzy, theme is then followed by one which I assume is the lament. It cannot really be called sad so much as nostalgic, perhaps like Auld Lang Syne, but not so boisterous. The jaunty dance returns and the work ends in a playful fashion. As a measure of just how much Mr. Sowash has succeeded in creating a French work, I would hazard that 99% of all listeners hearing this music would guess it was by a French composer. Another little gem.

The second work of interest to us is The View From Carew for Clarinet, Cello & Piano. This one movement work also dates from 2000 and was written for a clarinetist who wanted a piece that was "very romantic...even operatic." The title refers to the view from Cincinnati's tallest skyscraper. Sowash tells us, "The clarinet represents a lonely man mourning the end of a love affair. He views the city and remembers the happy hours he passed there with his love." The trio begins with a moving theme deep on the cello's lowest register with the piano playing soft chords. When the clarinet enters, it is with an entirely different theme, dream-like and happy while the piano strikes up a very romantic accompaniment. This is the love theme. It is gentle and beautiful. After the clarinet takes a brief cadenza to its heights, the cello and piano join in putting the finishing touches on this highly evocative theme. After the emotional pinnacle is reached, there is a moment of silence before the melody representative of the man's loss begins. It has a wistful, brooding quality to it, but it is not harsh or bitter. Though not operatic, Mr. Sowash has written a first rate piece of music which certainly well depicts what he set out to, and, it can stand on its own without any program. The parts to this work as well as the Impressionist Suites are available from Sowash Publishing.

Also on this highly recommended CD are works for clarinet and piano, cello and piano and piano solo. Mr. Sowash's music cannot be pigeon-holed. At times neo-classical, romantic, neo-romantic, or impressionist, the music is always original and never hackneyed or low-brow. Mr. Sowash's attractive music is always tonal although he does not, on occasion, hesitate to challenge his listeners by pushing tonality to its limits.

-- Chamber Music Journal, Ray Silvertrust


"Mr. Sowash's music cannot be pigeon-holed. At times neo-classical, romantic, neo-romantic, or impressionist, the music is always original and never hackneyed or low-brow."
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