Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Davis Bingham, Lou Harrison, Robert Whitney|
Lou Harrison: Suite for Symphonic Strings; Strict Songs
Genres: Pop, Classical
Listen to Samples
An interesting introduction to a maverick composer, unfortun
Discophage | France | 01/10/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Here is one possible definition of a maverick: one who neither goes by the rules nor against them, but makes his way besides them. Lou Harrison is a good example. Some composers write polytonal music, some write polyrhythmic music - but in his Suite for Symphonic Strings from 1960, Harrison writes polystylistically. The Suite's nine movements alternate between a kind of folk-inspired Dance music announcing the minimalim of Terry Riley (for instance in Terry Riley: Salome Dances for Peace) or the kind of World Music publicized by the Kronos and Balanescu Quartets (try the 1st movement, Estampie, a southern French Medieval stomping dance, or again the 4th and 8th), lyrical passages in a pensive and wistful mood reminiscent of Barber's Adagio (2nd movement Chorale "Et in Arcadia Ego", 9th movmement "Nocturne") or even some more tensely expressionistic, evoking Berg's Three Movements from the Lyric Suite for string orchestra (4, Lament), and strict fugues and canons, some stern and evocative of, well, Bach's Art of the Fugue seen through the lenses, again, of Berg's string quartets (3, 7), others more light-hearted and sunny (6, "In Honor of Apollo"). Harrison not only admitted to that much but even made it a point of style: "This Suite was composed out of materials some of which are quite old. Often, with me, even indivudual movements "assemble" themselves out of items that may have been composed (or sketched) many years apart. (...) As a personal matter, the Suite is, for me, a curiously unified & compact piece. Despite the variety of compositional manners which it encompasses, & its length, I still regard it almost as a "story-line" composition."
More coherence of World-Music-only style in The four Strict Songs for Eight Baritones with Orchestra from 1955, a Louisville commission, inspired by Navaho Songs and meant as celebrations of and offerings to "the four divisions of things of which we have awareness": plants, animals, heavens, minerals. The music is outwardly simple, repetitive and goes for a kind of ritualistic and haunting impact. Britten may fleetingly come to mind - the Britten of the far-East-inspired Churhc Parables, or again (in the last song) the powerful chorales of Billy Budd. Other than Cowell maybe, I can't think of many who composed music like that in the 1950s. Of course, starting with the 1980s, they swarmed.
Outstanding booklet, with facsimiles of letters written by Harrison in his beautifully ornate handwriting - a work of art in itself.
However the disc has two flaws: first by a relatively short TT of 48 minutes, which I'd have been ready to put up with in consideration of the coherence of the program (short TT has been the main drawback of First Edition Music's otherwise highly laudable choice to offer one-composer programs in their valuable series of Louisville reissues - it often happens that there is no more than 40 to 50 minutes of music of a given composer in the Louisville catalog - see for instance my reviews of Crumb: Variazioni, Echoes of Time and the River, Gian Francesco Malipiero: Piano Concerto No. 3; Nocturne of songs and Dances; Fantasies of Every Day or Andrzej Panufnik: Nocturn / Rhapsody / Symphony 2.)
Way more irksome is a problem with the transfers which I've remarked in other such First Edition Music Louisville reissues (see my reviews of Wallingford Riegger: Variations / Sym No.4 and Peter Mennin: Syms 5 & 6 / Cello Cto). Track 6, the sonic perspective (until then good, present and well-defined mono with unobtrusive tape hiss) suddenly and markedly shifts to the left-channel (as if it were badly processed - how did they call it already? - "electronically reprocessed stereo") and from there on the sound acquires a pervading kind of metalling flutter apparently pointing to a badly worn master tape. But I know from Mennin's Cello Concerto (earlier reissued on CD by Albany, Kurka/Mennin/Piston: Orchestral Works) that this problem comes not from the original tapes, but apparently from something that went wrong it First Edition Music's transfers. Anyway, the feeling is awful.
The Strict Songs were originally released in 1958 on Louisville 582 with Peter Jona Korn's Variations on a Tune from Beggars' Opera, and the Suite in 1962 on Lou 621 with Ives' Decoration Day.