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SOUNDS OF AMERICA

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Idiomatic performances: Washington-based chamber orchestra Inscape record new ensemble works by seven young American composers on ‘American Aggregate’

a MeiYi Foo pf cYoori Choi, cJin Hyung Lim kybds b Toca Loca; cMcGill Percussion Ensemble; d Soloists / cdAiyun Huang Naxos Canadian Classics B 8 573303 (56’ • DDD)

Chris Paul Harman’s simple yet intricate music seems to affirm the supremacy of acoustic keyboard instruments, in this case the piano both by itself and in combination with an ample array of percussion instruments including tuned Swiss cowbells, crotales and glockenspiel.

Drawing inspiration from Bach’s chorales and Two-Part Inventions and three of Schumann’s piano cycles, Harman, Professor of Music at McGill University in Montreal, creates fresh, unique and seductively focused sound worlds on prepared, toy, non-equally tempered and mostly conventional pianos. Although each of the five pieces, written between 2006 and 2013, has its own identity, they share enough similarity that they could easily be listened to as a discourse on one continuous thought.

Pianist MeiYi Foo bookends the programme with confident, embracing performances of Harman’s two moving soliloquies, After Schumann I and After Schumann II. As it should be, the references to Schumann are less obvious until you forget to listen for them, at which point they become Proustian. Much the same thing is accomplished on a larger scale in Harman’s imposing 371, painstakingly extracted from the four lines of the last of Bach’s 371 Harmonised Chorales and performed with cool urban chic by Toronto’s Toca Loca ensemble.

The four-movement Concertino, performed by the very excellent McGill University Percussion Ensemble, takes off into a mildly gong-like sonic universe, like a Canadian gamelan. Der Tag mit seinem Licht is the CD’s most purely beautiful music. Based on a chorale melody by Bach, it suggests the euphonious sounds of Mozart’s music for glass harmonica. Laurence Vittes

‘American Aggregate’ J Adolphe Wordless Creatures Bayolo Wide Open Spaces Gorbos What I Decided to Keep Hallman The Extraordinary Gryssandra Wycke Lincoln-DeCusatis Oblivion Spears The Bear and the Dove (Blu-ray only) Visconti Black Bend Inscape Sono Luminus M b (CD + Y) DSL92179 (83’ • DDD • DTS-DH MA 192kHz/24 bit 5.1, 96kHz/24 bit 7.1 & 192kHz/24 bit LPCM stereo)

American chamber orchestra Inscape’s second CD features varied,

arresting, original music by seven young American composers.

Nathan Lincoln-DeCusatis’s Oblivion is a dazzling, often momentous 20-minute slice of life in an urban landscape through which the composer’s own sounds seem fated for sublimation ‘into a digital cloud’. Joseph Hallman’s The Extraordinary Gryssandra Wycke creates a world of ‘levitation, reanimation and death’ so vivid that the sounds the instruments make themselves assume personalities as if they were characters in a Diaghilev ballet. Stephen Gorbos’s What I Decided to Keep, scored for the full orchestra, is endearingly both fanciful and romantic; Gorbos credits the influence of Bartók’s Fifth String Quartet, and it might be heard in the daring contrasts in energy levels between the music’s continuous sections.

Dan Visconti’s Black Bend is a highly persuasive, ghost-addicted blues, six minutes long, with a wonderful fiddle solo haunted by insinuating, expressive winds. Armando Bayolo’s Wide Open Spaces puts a climatechange wasteland into a musical diorama that ends with a raucous jazz funeral band. Julia Adolphe’s Wordless Creatures uses concentric conceits to protect her ‘community of small, scurrying creatures’ that are gentle but remote in nature. Gregory Spears’s The Bear and the Dove (available only on Blu-ray and mShuttle) is an attractively dense block of sound moving slowly towards vague, radiant light, ending with a quote from Mahler’s gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE APRIL 2015 III