Contemporary Music at its Finest
e. verrillo | williamsburg, ma | 09/15/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The reviewer who characterized "We Speak Etruscan" as "honks and crashes" needs to be taken out and honked. (You know who you are. Meet me outside.) This piece, and every other piece on this album is a five-star gem.
I will be honest; I am not a great fan of contemporary American music. Frankly, I like to hum along to my (mostly dead) composers, usually as I am doing something mindless. But when you listen to Hyla's music, it is not only highly unlikely that you will sing along, you really can't focus on much else. The changes in mood, texture and (yes!) harmony are completely captivating. The best way to understand it is not with your mind, however, but with your body. Hyla's music is a visceral experience which will take you places you've never gone before.
The first piece on the album, Pre-Pulse Suspended, characterizes Hyla's approach to music. It starts with a quick plunge into a bath of cold water which will leave you breathless. After a few minutes, Hyla relents and gives you a warm lyrical current to float on. (It's delicious, but don't get too comfortable.) This is typical of Hyla - rapid, almost overwhelming shifts of mood and texture, which very few composers can pull off without descending into chaos. In spite of the extreme contrasts inherent in all of the pieces on this album (witness the heartbreakingly ethereal opening of the String Quartet No. 3 as it evolves inexorably into nailbiting tension) - Hyla is never chaotic. He is the master of control. He will make you hold your breath one minute, sigh the next, and laugh a minute later. (Both the title piece and the piano concerto have a slapstick Marx Brothers element that really hits you in the funny bone.)
For lovers of contemporary music, just sit back and enjoy the ride. But if this is your first experience with contemporary composers, let Hyla introduce you to a new form of travel. You won't come back the same."
So much to talk about!
greg taylor | Portland, Oregon United States | 09/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I really am not sure where to start with this CD. First, I guess would be to try to locate Hyla within the contemporary classical scene. Good luck. He is not really welded to atonality nor to a romantic neo-tonal approach. He is certainly not a minimalist or a serialist.
This 1996 release sounds like it could have been written in the 90s, the 50s or the early parts of the twentieth century. Mostly I think Hyla is an iconoclast. He is a melodicist but an unpredicatble one. Sometimes his music seems complex, even choatic but it also always seems very carefully structured. Every note by every instrument is carefully placed. A million things may be happening but you can hear every single one of them.
Hyla loves certain sounds and sound qualities. He has formed a life-long relationship with bass clarinetist Tim Smith who is simply great throughout this CD. The opening of Pre-Pulse Suspended is Smith in duet with a violin. The sound is all about grainyness. This duet section is mined for material through out the rest of the piece. This is truely an amazing piece. The rhythmic structure is jagged, aggressive and enormously vital. This may become one of my favorite contemporary classical pieces. And one that I will play for open-eared friends who ask me what there is in this genre of music that I love.
The string quartets seem more traditional as if they could have been written at any point in the twentieth century. Hyla seems to eschew the use of much extended technique on the strings which adds to their traditional sound. But they are very rich in the interplay and in the odd development of the themes. I like them very much.
And finally I want to mention the title piece. What a treat. Tim Smith on the bass clarinet and Tim Berne on the baritone sax. We are not just talking about gritty grainy sound but gritty grainy sound with bottom. The rhythmic drive of this piece is delightful. Very jazzy but somehow obviously not. Third stream at its best.
I suppose that in the end it doesn't really matter where Hyla belongs on the musical map. He seems to listen to any and all American musics. He seems to have mastered most compositional approaches. And he then seems to write down whatever comes into his head. In a very ordered, clear and engrossing manner.
I love this guy. Regardless of what you think about how I am trying to express why you should listen to Hyla please do give this CD a listen. I guarantee you will not hear anything more original anytime soon.