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Nolan Stolz Rock Orchestra: Nolan Stoltz Rock Orchestra

Dr. Nolan Stolz is Assistant Professor of Music at the University of South Carolina Upstate and across this self titled album from his Rock Orchestra, he’s joined by all manner of academics, students, music professionals, band members and a lawyer (who is also a freelance guitarist); the collective recreating a collection of classical pieces on a mix of electric and more overtly orchestra based instruments. Stolz himself arranges, mixes, produces and plays keyboards, guitar, bass and drums, across the eight pieces originally composed by Schubert, Mahler, Ravel and, amongst others Stravinsky. Most of the ten other people involved only contribute for a track or two each and even then, mainly as solo performers within the main piece, with, again, Stolz the constant that brings it all into being.

Pieced together across 18 years, this album has been a huge undertaking in both construction and scope, as real life continually got in the way of Stolz’ dream of finishing his record. However, in 2017 with everything finally in place, the album was complete and ready to be released to the public.

Now, with all that in mind, it is immediately understandable that one of the main stumbling blocks you encounter as you approach this album is a continually uneven sound, with opening “Rite Of Spring Suite” (by Stravinsky) suffering from percussive sounds that are more akin to wet boxes being struck with egg whisks than they are an orchestral section. However, with the ethos seeming to be to stay as true to the original pieces as possible while updating the approach used, to expect everything to sound like a full recital would maybe be unwise. The trip continues through “Introduction; Variations on a 12-Tone Row” by Schoenberg and the Ives composition “The Unanswered Question”. Accompanying all the pieces are little explanations in the booklet detailing the construction and motivation behind each piece and in ways, as it all unfolds, this ‘educational’ environment can be felt in the music itself, the impression that you’re being taken through these pieces as much for the purpose of furthering your knowledge as you are for entertainment, often hard to shake off.

Ravel’s “Bolero” feels in many ways like the centre piece of the album but with a perfunctory sound, the whole experience falls flat. Although Daniel Cathy on flute and clarinet, Robby Wingfield on tenor sax and Milena Albrecht on cello all do their best to infuse life into a piece that’s had so many interpretations that hoping for this rendition to rival them was a long shot at best.

The Erb/Stolz composition, “Diversions For Four (Other Than Group Sex)” possibly fares best, the intentionally off-kilter percussion hard to resist, while the jazz meets classics at the piece’s end is tremendous fun. But with “Symphony 3 I., Exposition” (Scriaban), “Symphony 6 I., Exposition” (Mahler) and “The Erkling” (Schubert, German text by Goethe) again struggling to shake off the instruction manual feel, things never really get out of first gear and as such, can become something of a trial.

Kudos to all involved, because there’s no doubt that the talent on show and the intentions behind the performances are beyond question. However, whether through the piecemeal manner in which this album was constructed and its unwillingness to break free from the original interpretations, or indeed, issues with budgets and sound, this self titled debut from Nolan Stolz Rock Orchestra never quite conveys the passion that undoubtedly went into creating it.

Track Listing
1. Rite of Spring Suite
2. Introduction; Variations on a 12-Tone Row
3. The Unanswered Question
4. Bolero
5. Diversions for Four (Other Than Group Sex)
6. Symphony No. 3 I., Exposition
7. Symphony No. 6 I., Exposition
8. The Erlking

Added: June 30th 2018
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Nolan Stolz online
Hits: 877
Language: english

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