Thrive on Routine
The newest recording from ACME (American Contemporary Music Ensemble) contains a bounty of appealing recent works. Four are by ensemble members Timo Andres, Caleb Burhans and Caroline Shaw, while the fifth, and most expansive, is John Luther Adams’s In a treeless place, only snow.
Each of the pieces by ACME players has a back story. Andres’s Thrive on Routine is inspired by Ives’s morning rituals and love of Bach. The movement titles – ‘Morning’, ‘Potatoes’, ‘Passcaglia’, ‘Coda’ – tell much of the tale, with inestimable help from Andres’s witty and concise musings for string quartet. Another quartet, Burhans’s Jahrzeit pays tribute to the composer’s late father in music of haunting radiance and poignancy.
Shaw’s two entries are solo works that reflect on music of past masters in deft modern strokes. in manus tuas is a glowing evocation of a Tallis motet in which the cello, emerging from a haze, spins wisps of phrases that fade into space; Clarice Jensen gives it an impassioned performance. In Gustave Le Gray, Chopin’s A minor Mazurka, Op 17 No 4, is transformed into a new, moving context, especially in the sensitive account by pianist Andres.
As in many scores, Adams emits a quiet cry on behalf of ecological sanity in his glistening piece for string quartet, piano, celesta and vibraphones. The ACME players capture the aura of tranquility to hypnotic effect, the repeated patterns in the keyboard instruments contrasted beautifully with the lyrical strings.