S L TAN Revelations
Writing music for friends and colleagues must be one of the greatest joys of the composer’s art. Here it is demonstrated by three absorbing pieces written by Su Lian Tan, who teaches composition at Middlebury College in Vermont.
Life in Wayang, commissioned by the Takács Quartet, is wonderfully dramatic music that reveals its puppet-theatre origins in the skeletal nature of its framework and the quicksilver disconnects between delicacy and passion. The narrative breaks through ghostly landscapes into gorgeous Janáček-like song, and a spike of energy recalls the Trio of Beethoven’s Second ‘Rasumovsky’ Quartet, ending in a slither of insinuation. It is forcefully played by the Jupiter Quartet, Artists-in-Residence at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who have a real knack for authentically inhabiting this kind of personally inspired art.
The sheer relish with which Bruce Brubaker swings into Tan’s Orfeo in Asia, commissioned by Blair McMillen, is a response to the way the composer’s beautiful, often clangorously powerful writing for the piano aligns with her conceit on an Orpheus ‘spirited away to Southeast Asia’ with all the attendant gamelan noise that implies, mixed in with surges of eclectic Western influences.
The CD gets its title from Revelations, a two-movement piano quintet commissioned by longtime Middlebury Performing Arts director Paul Nelson for cellist Sophie Shao. The music tries earnestly to ‘represent the life of a scholar, a teacher and role model’, and can’t help being academic in all the most endearing ways; also, as might be expected, it is strewn casually with gorgeous cello solos.