" [...] The gently unfolding theme, itself built on a five-note kernel, is given by the cello playing solo, and is then followed by 21 short variations. The overall feel is indeed very sunny, especially with an opening in that sunniest of keys, C major. Rival suggested that the listener might not be able to hear all the variation changes, but in fact they are pretty clear, while at the same time regularly eliding into a new variation—very skillfully, for this is a beautifully crafted work that will appeal to those who enjoy musical construction as much as it will to those who want their ears to be charmed. [...]
"The two instruments are, after the solo opening, very much equals, sometimes playful, at times a little whimsical, and almost always lyrical. [...] One feature in particular contributed to that optimism: throughout the different variations (and in the theme itself), the musical lines regularly rise up the register, giving a flow that rises up and then starts again. Only in the darkest variation does the cello line fall, the piano playing blocks high on the keyboard, but even then, the cello can't resist also ending up high. Finally, at the very end, everything happily tumbles downward, and in the contrast, in the change of the repeated flow, we know the piece is ending.
"These Sunshine Variations were a very pleasant surprise—they deserve to become popular with both cellists, who will really appreciate the musicality of the writing, and with audiences, who will enjoy their flow and their happy tone."
—Mark Morris on Sunshine Variations, in Edmonton Scene, September 30, 2022
"The third piece is an absolutely gut-wrenching Elegy. This is Rival at his best: intensely poetic harmony and textural tapestry giving way to moments of exquisite lyricism."
—Michael Esch on Six Pieces, in The Musical Blog, April 30, 2020
"[Rival's] cello sonata held a remarkable unity; the lyrical passages arriving with beauty and soaring joy while the musical direction flowed with ease. Djokic and Jalbert had a solid canvas on which to create rich tone and spacious effects without undue intensity."
—Margot Aldrich, Sound Views, May 30, 2019
"Ana María Otamendi beautifully crafts the opening few bars as she creates a wonderful atmosphere that evokes placid imagery."
—Robert DiLutis, The Clarinet 46/3 (June 2019), journal of the International Clarinet Association, on Sonata "Muskoka"
"[Traces of a Silent Landscape] is a striking and very effective work, quite modern in style but with clear traditional roots. One gets the immediate impression that the quiet, wispy nature of the music is not only perfectly suited to the particular sounds that these period instruments produce but was also inspired by them [...] The delicate ending of the final Forest's Lullaby is quite stunning."
—Terry Robbins, The WholeNote, April 2017
"[Traces of a Silent Landscape] begins with a measured fugal texture—more evocative of the fugues of the Romantics than Bach [...] with a long climax. Each movement explores an aspect of wintery stillness in nature. It's effective writing and definitely worth a listen."
—Kiersten van Vliet, La Scena Musicale, June 1, 2017
"L'Aube (The Dawn), setting two poems by Victor Hugo, shows a different side of [Rival's] art, much more harmonically daring, and exploring modern choral techniques while maintaining the sense of story-telling that seems to be at the heart of his esthetic. The first poem, about a child sleeping, was especially arresting. It's full of contrasts, sometimes almost approaching Gregorian chant, at others using more extreme vocal effects. There were some unexpected and thoughtful touches, such as the chorus going up in pitch on the final word of "a child sleeps" when most composers would instinctively have gone down, and an effective sense of underlying movement, rather like those a child might make when asleep.
"It was, I think, the most impressive music I have heard from Rival, and the second song, quieter in tone, nearly matched it, the sounds of dawn at the opening reminding me of the little echoes one gets first thing on a crisp winter morning. The change at the end, when the listener realizes that the poet is visiting a grave, was well-handled, too. So was the choral writing, providing just the combination of solo lines, small internal groups and the full choir that Pro Coro thrives on."
—Mark Morris, Edmonton Journal, May 29, 2016
"Robert Rival (b. 1975) may be known in Canada, but certainly not here—and that's a pity. His three-movement 2005 Piano Trio, though hardly cutting edge, proved intriguing for such a tonal work. The outlying movements were journeys that took unexpected turns, from spicy and modal to overtly tonal, with the finale incorporating a dancing quality. The slow movement, Elegy: Largo sostenuto, proved riveting. Opening with the expected warm elegiac lyricism, it grew dissonant and passionate. Rival's trio proved a real pleasure with the Camerata's sympathetic and convincing performance."
—Jim Lowe, Times Argust, Vermont, May 17, 2016
"...stirring and dramatic..."
Brendan Shand, sudbury.com, Apr 20, 2016 on Northwest Passage Variations
"Rival writes in a very approachable tonal style. The opening motive even recurs as the subject of a fugue in the first section of the work ... it is an effective work by a composer who writes capably and idiomatically for strings."
—David Fawcett, Greater Hamilton Musician, Sep 21, 2015 on Spring
"[Rival's Spring] afforded concertmaster Stephen Sitarski a brief but moving solo ... Somehow, the piece vividly evoked memories of a young (and foolish) Danny Gaisin kayaking down New York's Ausable River during the early melting snow run-off. The echoing through the chasm; the brief calmness where the river eddies and then the rush of the rapids all were inferred within the music."
—Danny Gaisin, Ontario Arts Review, Sep 20, 2015
"Kuerti made a good case for Robert Rival’s Achilles and Scamander, a frankly programmatic (and tonal) treatment of a battle sequence from The Iliad (as retold in parts, one is tempted to say, by Mahler) ... this was positive, upfront writing, with no postmodern baloney of any kind. Yes, you can program Canadian music and make it work."
—Arthur Kaptainis, Montreal Gazette, July 11, 2014
"L'oeuvre spectaculaire de Robert Rival, apport intelligent à la 'ligne éditoriale' contemporaine du Métropolitain ..."
—Christophe Huss, Le Devoir, July 11, 2014 on
Achilles & Scamander
"...clever and evocative..."
—Richard Todd, Ottawa Citizen, May 12, 2014 on Whirlwind
"Rival chose to follow the tradition of folk-songs variations pioneered by such English composers as Vaughan Williams. The equivalent of a brass band gave us the tune, and thereafter the ghost of the sea-shanty underpinned the variations. Undulations of the sea were effectively evoked by rising and falling strings. A solo violin variation was played with feeling by Robert Uchida, and the variations ended with a hymn-like rendition of the tune."
—Mark Morris, Edmonton Journal, May 12, 2014 on Northwest Passage Variations
"Robert Rival's tender, slightly Ravelian Lullaby (2012) uses changing metres, rather than the triple time of cradle-rocking, to evoke walking and rocking his first child."
—Roger Knox, The Wholenote, April 2014
"The symphony will give pleasure to many ... For above all this new symphony paints moods ... The opening movement plants itself firmly in the American 20th-century symphonic tradition, its longer, noble theme, more colour than melody, reminiscent of, say, Hanson – and all firmly tonal. Similarly, the dance-like opening of the final movement recalls Copland ... The second movement, the most successful, is initially more harmonically adventurous ... The movement concentrates on texture and colour, and as such is effective and appealing, with lovely effects at the end, as the rain drops whisper into nothing."
—Mark Morris, Edmonton Journal, Feb 23, 2013 on Symphony No. 2 "Water"
"Rival's Second Symphony is vividly programmatic. The first movement shifts interestingly through a variety of moods; the notion of structure is secondary to the musical ideas that lead the piece to its quiet fadeaway. In between, Rival creates brief moments of stormy emotion, gentle passages of unanxious longing and short periods of dark, harsher brass and woodwind writing. None of the transitions feel forced; his strength is
musical narrative." [review continues here]
—William Rankin, Edmonton Arts blog, Feb 23, 2013, on Symphony No. 2 "Water"
"Robert Rival’s concise Lullaby (2012) presupposes a fairly sophisticated baby: Its gentle textures and flowing themes occasionally yield surprising harmonic turns and briskly changing meters."
—Allan Kozinn, New York Times, 2012
"...a work of quiet rapture and refined sensibility ... elegant concision ..."
—Jack Sullivan, American Record Guide (September/October 2012) on Lullaby
"Rival’s Lullaby, inspired by the birth of his first child last summer, conjures moods that certainly beckon sleep, although Rival eschews a conventional triple meter like Brahms used, choosing instead a kind of narrative arc suggesting fleeting stages of consciousness drifting away. Those stages are as likely to feel anxiously propulsive as pleasantly soporific, and the effect is engaging."
—William Rankin, Globe & Mail, 2012
"Opening the program was Canadian composer Robert Rival's Lullaby. Written for the composer's infant son, it is true to its title, moving in gently rocking rhythms and creating a lulling, atmospheric dream world with slow melodies, subtle string glissandos and soft percussion effects."
—Michael Huebner, Birmingham News (Alabama), 2012
"Things began delicately, serenely with Robert Rival’s Lullaby, a brief, rhythmically rich piece written for his infant son."
—Elizabeth Withey, Edmonton Journal, 2012
—Lark Clark, CKUA radio, 2012, on Lullaby
"The work was heartfelt, lovely, gentle, unassuming..."
—Harry Rolnick, ConcertoNet.com , May 8, 2012 on Lullaby
—Mark Morris, Edmonton Journal, Sep. 30, 2013 on Lullaby
"... Rival has a clear notion of how to convey [a] juggernaut sonically ... In the several moments of lull in the martial frenzy, the bassoon, flute and harp gave moments of emotional relief nicely."
—William Rankin (Edmonton Arts blog), 2012, on Achilles & Scamander
"This sometimes eccentric tone poem served as a great tune-up for the concert-goer’s ear, with its heavy rhythms, great dynamic shifts, and hugely contrasting sections. I found the sonic blasts from the percussion instruments absolutely riveting throughout, referencing powerful Russian masterpieces like Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, and the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition."
—Tony Kilgannon (Ontario Arts Review), 2012, on Achilles & Scamander
"...a sophisticated work in two movements. The first, entitled This rough magic, is brooding and then agitated, the second more affirmative. Together they cast a powerful spell."
—Richard Todd, Ottawa Citizen, 2011, on String Sextet "The Tempest"
"An attractive and concise four-movement work, [Sonata for Viola and Double Bass] opens with a swirling ostinato with later allusions to Shostakovich. The sad and dirge-like second movement has some difficult high harmonics for both instruments; a second adagio is more song-like while the finale is contrastingly jokey."
— Peter Donnelly (The Mercury, Hobart, Australia)
"... a three-movement Piano Trio thoroughly worked out in a purely classical idiom."
— Arthur Kaptainis (The Gazette, Montreal)
"Tonal, avec forme-sonate affirmée, le long Trio en trois mouvements que l'Ontarien Robert Rival composa à Saint-Henri en 2005 rappelle Chostakovich par son intensité."
— Claude Gingras (La Presse, Montréal) on Piano Trio
" ... an unequivocal hit. There's nothing particularly subtle about Rival's grizzly cabaret idiom, but his music, heavy ironies and all, is memorable and effective."
— David Gordon Duke (Vancouver Sun) on Red Moon & Other Songs of War (chamber version)
"The opening Allegro risoluto was substantial and powerful in a Brahms-like way, its drive insterspersed by moments of lyricism. The slow movement, Elegy: Largo, was very moving ... The finale, Dance: Andante, ... was full of dance rhythms, spiced by unexpected moments ... Throughout, the writing was largely tonal but with interesting rhythmic juxtapositions."
— Jim Lowe (Times Argus, Vermont) on Piano Trio
"Other pieces of interest included Robert Rival's piano Intermezzo in A-flat [No.1 from Six Pieces], a work reminiscent of Chopin and Fauré with a light polytonal accent."
— Richard Todd (Ottawa Citizen)
"[The Great Northern Diver] created the almost silent vastness of Canada and the individual wail of the loon."
— Munster Express (Waterford, Ireland)
"Reminiscent of the outer movements of Shostakovich's 'jolly' symphony, the ninth ... [Overture] is solid, engaging and a good listen."
— Ottawa Citizen
"A brisk and bounding overture."
— Toronto Star
"In three movements, [Piano Trio] displays a good command of form, and is immediately appealing."
— Richard Todd (Ottawa Citizen)
"Rival's [string] trio was stressed and nervous, not really very pleasant, but well crafted and, in its own way, quite effective. The string writing is excellent and the work is entirely coherent, at least for those who can handle the emotional message. It is basically a tonal work, though it hardly wears its tonality on its sleeve."
— Richard Todd (Ottawa Citizen)
"[The Overcoat] makes its point in a subtle and poignant way."
— What's On in London
"An airtight musical treatment that can't be faulted".
— curtainup.com on the NY International Fringe Festival production of The Overcoat