The New York Times
Allan Kozinn
May 10, 2009

Derek Bermel, like many composers born in the late 1960’s, is a natural eclectic who uses classical forms and timbres as his principal medium and draws on jazz, pop, and world music when he wants a particular melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic twist.

But Mr. Bermel makes his colleagues seem almost passive in their style hopping. Dust Dances (1994), the vigorous opening work here, is the fruit of a four-month visit to Ghana, where Mr. Bermel studied the gyil, an African xylophone. A fascination with Bulgarian folk music took him to Plovdiv, Bulgaria, to study it for six months. That experience yielded Thracian Echoes (2002), an exotic tour that begins with sliding string figures that evolve into modal, often mournful themes, then makes its way to a set of manic, richly orchestrated folk dances.

Mr. Bermel’s influences are closer to home as well. When Dust Dances is not evoking the gyil in a blend of Western percussion and strings, it is gliding through passages that could almost pass for Gershwin. More recent jazz informs Voices (1997), a three-movement clarinet concerto in which Mr. Bermel is the colorful virtuosic soloist and Gil Rose’s band swings along freely.

The polished and the vernacular mingle in the bent-note evocations of speech—flirting, taunting, shouting, and bantering—that open the concerto, as well as in the slow movement, based on an Irish folk melody, and the wild, unabashedly down-and-dirty jazz jam that ends the piece.

Mr. Rose and his Boston new-music band play it all with natural vitality. The recording, beautifully detailed, packs a solid punch in stereo and is even more strikingly visceral in surround mode, which puts the orchestra around you but preserves the listener-ensemble distance of the concert hall.