Comprised of commissions centered upon the title theme, Unraveled presents six new compositions by lauded composers like Paul Dooley, whose music Steve Reich calls, "impressive and beautiful". Committed to solidifying the reed quintet as a full-fledged chamber music force, Akropolis' discography now includes two studio albums consisting of twelve original reed quintet works.
About the album, Ron Grames of Fanfare Magazine writes the following:
"When classical music lovers think of woodwind quintets, they of course think of the time-honored combination of flute, clarinet, oboe, French horn, and bassoon. Here is a different assemblage: oboe, clarinet, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and bassoon. Called a reed quintet, it is a relatively new ensemble, pioneered by the Dutch quintet Calefax a little over 25 years ago. There are still only a handful of such ensembles playing professionally, with a rather limited repertoire. The dearth of established standards to perform means each ensemble must find its own way. Every group has its own personality, defined by and defining the music they play. Everything is new, or made new, and the innovation and exploration, the lack of stuffy conventions, and the richly varied sonorities that this combination of instruments offers, makes the reed quintet one the most exciting and rewarding chamber ensembles to follow.
Akropolis Reed Quintet is one in particular to watch. The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based ensemble, formed while the members were students at the University of Michigan, has some excellent transcriptions in its repertoire, but is doing its part to establish the reed quintet by the fostering of new compositions for the ensemble. Joining Calefax, and several other reed quintets, they have supported competitions to encourage composers to produce new works for their complement, have formed a reed quintet commissioning consortium, and have created a sheet music catalog for the distribution of the resulting original reed quintet compositions. Their first CD, High Speed Reed, presented six new works: high energy, often wildly complex and technically challenging, edgy at times, and immediately engaging. This new release, titled Unraveled, offers six more tour de force opuses by young composers. High energy levels and impressive invention are once again the norm, and everything here is as engaging as in the first release, but with the musical language leaning more toward the neoclassical: Stravinsky and Hindemith as much the model as the alt-classical scene.
Paul Dooley’s Warp & Weft, in fact, calls to mind Stravinsky in L'Histoire du soldat mode, while incorporating the Unraveled project theme with an aural analogy of interwoven themes. Robbie McCarthy’s Four-Letter Word, in the hands of Akropolis, is unexpectedly bucolic in the first two movements, and features some remarkably beautiful oboe playing. (It is really impolitic to single out one player from such a gifted and tightly knit ensemble, but oboist Timothy Gocklin is extraordinary.) The commissioning quintet, Paradise Winds, can be heard playing the work on YouTube, but it is Akropolis that really takes the measure of the piece. Korean composer Elliot Bark’s misty, melancholy Autumn in New York, which ends the program on a tender note, again features Gocklin on oboe. Part of Bark’s Four Seasons, commissioned by Arundo Donax Reed Quintet, it was Akropolis’s choice as prize winner in the 2012 Calefax Competition. Roger Zare’s Variations on Reverse Entropy follows the Unraveled notion by reversing the theme and variation formula, cleverly unwinding from the complex climax backward to the simple, touching statement of the theme. Jason Turbin’s Morse Code, with its namesake’s minimalist dots and dashes of music, passes these rhythmic exclamations contrapuntally from instrument to instrument, while lovely Mozartian solo lines soar above. Even my least favored, Israeli composer Florie Namir’s three-movement Delevarnu, is well worth hearing, especially the quirky third movement. Otherwise, with a title that is Unraveled spelled backwards—though it’s not clear why—it is loosely rhythmic when it isn’t being loosely lyrical, and generally is not as melodically distinguished or focused as the others.
All of the music, though, is remarkable for the sheer joy that it elicits from the exceptional ARQ musicians: the already cited Gocklin, Kari Dion on clarinet, Matt Landry on saxophone, Andrew Koeppe playing bass clarinet, and Ryan Reynolds on bassoon. Blend, balance, unanimity of pitch and phrasing: all are perfect. The quintet plays with imagination, infallible musicality, and huge vitality. The engineering is superb: close sound but not claustrophobic, with detail and solid, characterful bass. More information can be found on the Akropolis website, but I can’t imagine why anyone even remotely interested in approachable contemporary chamber music would not snap up this release immediately. It is too short, but that is its only fault."
Ron Grames, Fanfare Magazine