Scenes from a New Music Séance

San Francisco’s day-long ‘séance’ captured on disc

Author: 
Guy Rickards

Scenes from a New Music Séance

  • Tombeau
  • (5) Pieces for Violin and Piano, Jazz
  • Sonata for Violin, Ballade
  • Rippling the Lamp
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano
  • Sonata No. 2 for Violin, Piano and Drums
  • Khirgiz Suite
  • Double
  • Nonette
  • (Den) Arkadiske

While the living are central to the progressive Other Minds festivals in San Francisco, this violin-and-piano spin-off recording features works by the American pioneers (plus Hauer’s tiny, uncharacteristic Jazz) – musical grandfathers, as it were, of its featured composers – and it’s the older composers’ works that are the most interesting. Finest of all is Ruth Crawford’s Sonata (1926), a superb four-movement work in the American pioneer tradition. So too is Cowell’s five-span Sonata (1945), but sadly only the lovely central Ballade is included. Antheil’s single-movement Second (1923) piles one song quotation on top of another in Ivesian fashion, before encountering the New Englander’s music, while the three Webern-sized movements of Hovhaness’s Khirgiz Suite (1951) are as far removed as could be imagined from the Austrian’s mature work.

So to the living, mostly. Double (1994) is a diptych by Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (b1932), often pigeonholed as a Danish minimalist but far more subtle (and subversive) – as is Double. Den Arkadiske (‘Arcadia’, 1966) by his compatriot and contemporary Henning Christiansen (1932-2008) is, by contrast, unwaveringly minimalist. The folk-like subject, repeated ad nauseam, outstays its welcome long before its 10 minutes are up. If that is Arcadia, I would hate to visit Hell…

Less maddening are Rippling the Lamp (1994), a curious meditation on part of Burkhard’s Violin Concerto by Charles Amirkhanian (b1945; also the booklet annotator) and the multitracked Nonette (2010) by Amy Neuburg (b1962), written for Kate Stenberg accompanied by eight pre-recorded channels of her playing. Tombeau (2006) is a quiet memorial for Stenberg’s father, Donald, by Canadian Ronald Bruce Smith (b1959).

Stenberg and Eva-Maria Zimmermann deliver each piece with commendable commitment, and Judith Sherman’s sound is very fine but the disc seems less than the sum of its parts.

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