One of the central tenets of Albert Camus’ philosophy is the indomitability of the human spirit, a subject on which he famously mused that “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” This quote encapsulates the theme of WINTER’S WARMTH, Navona’s latest orchestral compilation featuring works from John A. Carollo, J.A. Kawarsky, Andrew Schultz, and R. Barry Ulrich. These composers present conceptual pieces that all act as soundtracks to our resiliency during the toughest moments of the human experience.
Let Freedom Ring, the first of Carollo’s two contributions to the album, focuses specifically on the freedoms of the American experience, utilizing an aesthetic of performer interpretation to exemplify the inalienable rights of Americans. A triumphant instrumental mood conjures intense feelings of patriotism despite being set in a minor key.
The shifting phases of Kawarsky’s Episodes speaks to the need to overcome life’s unpredictable changes. Amidst the crawls and crescendos of the piece’s orchestral mood, the piano retains center stage through the piece, pointing to a steadfast confrontation of turbulent times. The piano and orchestra often engage in a call-and-response manner of conversation, with strings and piano working to develop the central theme introduced with clarinet as the piece concludes.
Carollo’s second piece, The Transfiguration of Giovanni Baudino, similarly focuses on these themes of change, with the composer describing his fascination with the process of transfiguration and the “transformations we experience as human beings living through life’s demands and delights, its turmoil and tribulations.” The composition is appropriately tumultuous, journeying through numerous, intense orchestral moods.
Schultz contributes the majestic Falling Man/Dancing Man, a piece inspired by two contrasting depictions of human reactions to war – a photo of a man leaping to his death from the burning World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 and a snapshot of celebration in the streets after an allied victory in World War II. This creates a clear juxtaposition of themes throughout, given life by the composition’s lofty three movements which breathe in and out with orchestral swells. Throughout, an inspired organ performance provides the work’s trailblazing element.
The album’s name sake manifests in Ulrich’s Russian Winter, a short segment of a larger, string suite written in G minor. The title perfectly matches the imagery conjured by the cinematic nature of the composer’s writing; it’s easy to picture this piece playing in the background as grandiose shots of the cold Russian tundra loom in the distance.
Despite the numerous themes explored on WINTER’S WARMTH, there remains an underlying feeling of hope which points to the triumph of humanity within times of hardship. These four composers’ talents work towards a cohesive album rife with musical commentary on what it means to thrive within the human experience.