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SoundS of AmericA

rubbing against rhythms it would never find in its native country.

Other composers – most notably Lou Harrison – have mined the possibilities of pitting violin-playing against percussion but the McCormick Percussion Group has pushed that idea to its logical conclusion. By juxtaposing the almost vocal quality of bowed strings with the sharp attacks and quick decay of percussion, each of the composers here manages to keep the solo instrument in its best possible light. Even the double bass – an instrument whose lower register tends to get swallowed up in more traditional settings – makes it through the percussion trio of Daniel Adams’s Camouflage without ever leaving centre stage. Ken Smith

‘Our Lady’ ‘Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks’ Ludford salve regina Merbecke Ave Dei patris filia Pasche Magnificat Tallis Ave rosa sine spinis Byrd Ensemble scribe F sRCD1 (56’ • DDD)

seattle choir dusts down 16th‑century partbooks The Seattle-based Byrd Ensemble specialises in Renaissance polyphony, as is amply documented on their mesmerising new disc, ‘Our Lady’. The repertory of English Latin church music is drawn from the Peterhouse Partbooks, which were copied in the mid-16th century and reside at Peterhouse, the oldest college at the University of Cambridge. Many parts in the collection have gone missing over the centuries but they’ve been reconstructed by musicologist Nick Sandon, who details the challenges in the booklet-notes.

Only one of the composers performed here – Thomas Tallis – is likely to ring most modern bells but he is in good company, with three other fine representatives of the art of vocal polyphony: William Pasche, John Merbecke and Nicholas Ludford. Still, it’s no surprise that Tallis’s antiphon Ave rosa sine spinis is the most illuminating of the disc’s offerings, with myriad contrasts of vocal colour and harmonic language to grasp the ear. As sung by the Byrd musicians, every expressive subtlety is placed in luminous and urgent context.

Like the Tallis, the pieces by his colleagues require utmost precision of pitch, seamless unfolding of lines and clarity of texture for the music to work its wonders. The dozen or so members of the Byrd Ensemble, including artistic director Markdavin Obenza, are more than equal to the task. The sopranos are especially pure and radiant, and inner voices emerge or blend with magisterial refinement. Given the beauty of what the Byrd conveys through microphones, the ensemble must sound almost unworldly when performing in an ecclesiastical acoustic. Donald Rosenberg

Yedidia World Dance. Farewell, Nathaniel. Poème. Nocturne. Concertino a . Impromptu Alexander Fiterstein cl Ronn Yedidia pf with a Arnaud Sussmann vn a Melissa Reardon va a Nicholas Canellakis vc Naxos American Classics S 8 559699 (61’ • DDD)

Yedidia the pianist in recordings of his own chamber works The clarinettist Alexander Fiterstein appears to be capable of anything a composer could possibly ask. His sound can be warm or penetrating, he travels the instrument’s range with nimble assurance and he has an exceptional command of dynamic extremes, especially when the clarinet performs a disappearing act.

Fiterstein puts his multifaceted artistry to splendid use in this programme of music by Israeli-born composer Ronn Yedidia, also the recording’s articulate and expressive pianist. The repertory employs clarinet, piano and strings in invigorating and poignant conversations, many influenced by ethnic sources from Israel and elsewhere.

The modal flavours in Yedidia’s music are partly what make it so instantly appealing. Harmonies travel surprisingly from major to minor (and back again), and phrases head on vibrant rhythmic tangents with feet rooted in dance forms.

The disc’s opening selection, World Dance, is a whirlwind example of Yedidia’s ability to embrace many cultures and set them leaping. Clarinet and piano share honours here and in the other two affecting pieces in the collection, the Chopin-influenced Impromptu and the pensive Nocturne.

Two other pieces are scored for the same instruments. Yedidia pays heartfelt tribute to a late colleague in Farewell, Nathaniel, something of a song without words, and ventures into sweeping and haunting territory in Poème.

The clarinet teams with piano and string trio in Concertino, a work of romantic and brooding persuasion. The strings take a break midway to let the clarinet set off on a moody cadenza, which Fiterstein plays to the dramatic hilt. Donald Rosenberg

Zaimont Piano sonata. Nocturne: La fin de siècle. A Calendar set – 12 Virtuosic Preludes Christopher Atzinger pf Naxos American Classics S 8 559665 (66’ • DDD)

st Olaf piano professor with Zaimont portrait That Judith Lang Zaimont’s piano music has found numerous champions attests to the composer’s ability to write well-crafted, wideranging, accessible and passionate works that are both challenging and audience-friendly, as well as idiomatic enough to sound harder than they actually are to execute. Perhaps the latter characteristic is due to Zaimont’s own terrific pianism. In any case, her 30-minute, threemovement Piano Sonata (1999-2000) abounds with substance and authority. The opening ‘Ricerca’ movement features lithe, quicksilver contrapuntal writing and stern, granitic blocks of chords, while the central ‘Canto’ goes back and forth between rhapsodic flurries and expansive, tuneful melodies that wouldn’t be out of place in the Leonard Bernstein songbook. The finale, ‘Impronta digitale’, is a relentless yet texturally varied toccata, featuring long single lines that dart up and down the keyboard. It was featured as a contemporary music requirement for candidates in the 2001 International Van Cliburn Competition.

If the Sonata evokes French and American influences, the 12 virtuoso preludes making up A Calendar Set often seem to bring the Russian Romantics into the 20th century’s last decades: note the Rachmaninov-like layout of the fullthroated chords and assymetrical phrases in ‘July’, or that composer’s signature swirling passagework in ‘September’. Similarly, the 1979 Nocturne: La fin de siècle contrasts Americansounding wide interval leaps in the lyrical sections with Scriabinesque agitation in the central climax. These gestures all are jumpingoff points from which Zaimont’s own ideas evolve and flourish.

Zaimont has a sympathetic interpreter in Christopher Atzinger, who imbues her works with solid virtuosity, a strong sense of long lines and a keen ear for textural variety. My only criticism concerns his relatively terse, impatient shaping of the Nocturne’s opening pages, which would benefit from greater breadth and repose. Although the sound is a tad drab, one still infers the sweep and inevitable drive that make me prefer Atzinger’s way with the aforementioned ‘Impronta digitale’ over Joanne Polk’s slower, more intimately scaled rendition or Olga Kern’s steel-edged, ‘knock ’em dead’ approach. Incidentally, Atzinger’s excellent, informative booklet annotations mention the pianist/scholar Elizabeth Moak, whose recent two-disc Zaimont collection on the MSR label was released not long before the present disc and has yet to cross my reviewer’s desk. Jed Distler


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