"...and the eagle flies..."
NEW AMERICAN ORCHESTRAL MUSIC
Photo: Galen Rowell/Mountain Light
Available at your favorite digital etailers
including iTunes, Rhapsody and eMusic
Catalog Number: CPS-8634
Audio Format: Stereo, DDD
Playing Time: 57:22
Release Date: 1997
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|Seascape: Overture to Moby Dick (12:11)
Radio Symphony Orchestra
Eric Suben, conductor
Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra
Radio Symphony Orchestra
Eric Suben, conductor
New Music Connoiseur
- Volume 5 Number 3 - by B.L.C.
"With so much to
say and so few resources around (particularly orchestral resources)
to give them a hearing, American composers must be thankful to the
likes of Richard Brooks and the mere handful of serious new-music
entrepreneurs in the record business. Of course Brooks has given
himself an outlet for his own orchestral work, as in this album,
but let us grant him credit for all of the CDs he has produced championing
the work of many living composers.
Elizabeth Austin has been one of them. The album title is taken
from Carl Sandburgs poem Wilderness, which is the basis for her
strong assertive 19-minute work. Its probably unlike what Sandburg,
always the folk poet, had intended, but her human concerns are deep
and they infiltrate her musical ideas. A solo violin is heard in
the opening and near the end spelling out a 4-note atonal phrase
from which emerge variations representing the seven creatures within
humankind. For example, There is a fox in me, brings on a bluegrass
banjo strum, a sly tribute to the poet, also an avid folk guitarist.
All of these animals (wolf, hog, fish, baboon, eagle and mockingbird)
comprise a zoo "buried in the shallow grave of the ego,"
the composer writes. Although the animalistic urges are treated
head on, in the final "red valve heart" section, Ms. Austin's
music is sanguine: "We hope to achieve transcendence over [our]
animalistic urges." But yet another contradictory element underscores
the work -- the will to live, suggested by a recurring quote from
Stravinsky, the repeated sevenths accompanying the ghost of Petrouchka.
The performance by the Cracow Radio & Television Symphony under
Symon Kawalla is splendid -- beautifully balanced and attentive
to details. The two reciters (and intoners at the very end), Melinda
Liebermann and Anthony King, take opportunities to stress the poet's
lines in a sardonic way. That sort of expression makes the words
sound more alive and closer to the tone of this wilderness than
what we might expect, knowing the all too down-to-earth manner in
which readers, including Sandburg himself, tend to read his poetry.
The thematic element of the natural world is picked up by Brooks
in his two tone poems. Seascape is subtitled Overture
to Moby Dick and is actually the prelude and epilogue
to the composer's opera based on the Melville novel. A fresh listener
may immediately find the piece comparable in power and spaciousness
to Wagner's famed operatic seascape, and Brooks convinces us he
has his own ideas about setting the stage for such a massive literary
work. The vastness of the sea is there, as well as the tragic climax
of Captain Ahab's quest. And just to impress us with his emotional
range, he is able to paint a quiet landscape of Western Michigan
using "Amazing Grace" as the sinewy thread of his second
selection. Well, maybe the music does sound a bit like Wagner's Forest Murmurs and has a distinctly European sound much of
the time, but the great American Protestant hymn eventually takes
over to cap the work in a blaze of spiritual glory.
Putting Mr. Angeli's overlong (14+ min.) piece in an album with
an overriding theme seems to us a bit of a stretch. Sta Pestá is described as a "programmatic symphonic tableau depicting
the natural scenee and events during a festive day"
somewhere in the mountains of Southwestern Europe (our Italics).
But one gets little sense of the natural scene upon hearing it.
Between passages depicting a procession, punctuated by loud symbol
crashes, are a couple of quieter moments, perhaps meant as reflections
upon nature. All in all, however, the composition is poorly structured
and orchestrated and Mr. Angelis apparent lack of training he is
said to be self-taught is betrayed, though Mr. Suben and the Slovak
Radio S.O. try hard to give it import. Mr. Angeli ought to study
with Mr. Brooks, or at least listen to his Grace to see how to build
on a folk theme. Surely, there are many, many fine composers around
whose thoughts on nature could have rounded off this disc far more
Still, this is a worthwhile
CD with acceptable, if not great sonics. Keep 'em coming."
- Winter, 1998
stunning Wilderness Symphony translates Carl Sandburgs
poem by the same name form words into the language of music as a
brilliant sound tableaudeep, penetrating, and haunting. Comprised
of seven stanzas, Wilderness is one of Sandburgs so-called
"musings" or introspective, dreamy poems on the subject
of existence. The poem imagines a world before culture, before oppressive
government: a true state of nature, one that Thomas Hobbes might
have described as a war of every man against every man. Sandburg,
too, envisions this mysterious time before we marked time. Animals
stalk the planet: the fox, wolf, baboon, fish, eagle and mockingbird
are vestiges of this primeval condition, capable of great evil and
sublime goodness. Austin composes glorious music to accompany this
state of nature. "We have a wilderness within us," Austin
explains in the liner notes to her newly recorded symphony.
The work opens with a five-minute introduction featuring trombone
flourishes and spiky percussion. Austins writing is linear
and piercing. A streamlined violin soars above the bubbling action
of col legno dabs, high-hat hellos and clucking percussion.
This is not the pastoral world of Appalachian Spring. Austins
is an imaginary place in many ways a much more honest one.
In the second stanza describing the wolf, Austin demonstrates her
wit and imagination by introducing the banjo in a bluegrass quotation
of Foggy Mountain Breakdown. She describes it as an "intentional
homage to Sandburgs love of folklore." Each succeeding
stanza, recited alternately by a male and female voice, speaks to
different animals that rage within each of us, as in "There
is a hog in me." The "fish" section, recited by a
female voice, features harp glissandi and dancing figuration. The
"baboon" music is highlighted by short, punch motives
and descending sequences. Verses 6 and 7 depict the soaring eagle
and the intrepid mockingbird with a recollection of Stravinskys Petroushka for good measure.
The piece culminates in the last verse with a setting of the evocative
"O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, Inside my ribs." Here
is the reunion of emotion and experience. For the only time in the
piece, reciters burst into a unison melody with the words "I
sing and kill and work." For this thoroughly dramatic moment,
Austin keeps the voices singing together to end the poem: "I
am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness." The cries
of the animals subside and the piece concludes with a short coda.
Austins symphony is just that: a sonorous landscape of individualistic
sounds that blend beautifully together. At first, headstrong melodies
battle for recognition, but by the end they coalesce into a common
existence. Austins great gift in this piece is the meaning
she composes in Sandburgs verbal blank spaces, executing lush,
charismatic music during the poems idiosyncratic ellipses
and breaks between stanzas."
Choice - by Paul Turok
discs present music by members of the "Society of Composers."
Most teach, and with performances from many a provenance and in
varying states of sonic balance, the discs undoubtedly represent
part of the "publish or perish" syndrome. One contains
songs (with varied instrumental combinations) by Dinos Constantinides,
Elizabeth Lauer and others undistinguished, but not embarrassing
(CPS-8632). The other presents a sprightly chamber concerto (for
piano) by Charles Argersinger and an extremely imaginative handling
of violin and taped sounds, Harmonizer, by Daniel McCarthy,
along with less successful efforts by others (CPS-8639). An ambitious
project offers orchestral works by Richard Brooks, Elizabeth Austin
and F. DiArta-Angeli (CPS-8634). All open promisingly, but turn
lugubrious. None finishes convincingly."