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Dexter Morrill

Cover Painting: "Rodin Man" by Edith Smith

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Catalog Number: CPS-8642
Audio Format: Stereo, DDD
Playing Time: 51:03
Release Date: 1997

Track Listing & Audio Samples
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    Dance Bagatelles
  1. "Shall We Dance?" (1:10)
  2. A Latin Romance (1:17)
  3. Ragtime Dreams (1:29)
  4. Children's Dance (1:16)
  5. Solo Dance (1:46)
  6. A Delicate Waltz (0:43)
  7. "Dancing with Duke" (1:43)
  8. "Last Dance" (1:42)
    Laura Klugherz, viola
    Jill Timmons, piano
    String Quartet No. 2
  9. Motion Study (4:47)
  10. Processional/Variations (4:58)
  11. Blues/Fantasy (7:45)
    Tremont String Quartet
    Richard Balkin & Laura Mahan Balkin, violins
    Linda Walton Kirkwood, viola
    James Kirkwood, cello
  12. Fantasy (12:00)
    James Kirkwood, cello
    Three Lyric Pieces
Fantasy (3:10)
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  14. Gently Flowing (2:40)
  15. Dance (3:08)
    Laura Klugherz, violin
    Jill Timmons, piano



New Music Connoisseur - Volume 6, Number 4 - by Joseph Pehrson

"Capstone Records has done an exceptional job providing recording opportunities for composers. It is a special pleasure, then, when a fine Capstone record hits the market, as has happened with the release of 'Dexter Morrill, Music for Strings.' Morrill is somewhat of a curiosity as a composer. He studied at Cornell, did a dissertation on the music of Darius Milhaud -- whose influence is seldom felt in his music -- then wrote somewhat conventional music as evidenced by the early Three Lyric Pieces for violin and piano on this disk (not the strongest selection on the record). Finally he turned almost entirely to electronic music.

He returned to teach at Colgate University, his early alma mater, in the 1970s and established one of the first mainframe computer studios in the world, concentrating on computer music -- ultimately rigging up his own trumpet with MIDI gear and taking it on the road with soprano Neva Pilgrim. It seems Morrill is the kind of exploratory artist who is not content with the status quo and who constantly searches for something new. Unlike many composers who seem to use electronic tape music and computer music as a foil for their own compositional inadequacies -- Aw, come on, now, you didn't expect me to "name names" did you? -- Morrill is a real composer, with a distinct compositional voice, as evidenced particularly by his recent works in which he has returned to traditional string composition. The early Three Lyric Pieces, performed by Laura Klugherz, violin and Jill Timmons, piano has some traces of Bartok and Hindemith (never Milhaud), but it is the later work, after Morrill's sonic explorations with electronic music, that is truly mature and distinctive.

The String Quartet No. 2 from 1994, rendered by the Tremont String Quartet, is the strongest and most original piece on the album. It speaks in an individual voice with emphasis on varying duration and extended harmonies. The first movement "Motion Study" begins with a unison statement which grows into disparate sustained lines. The harmonies are very original -- they are quite chromatic, but with a tonal basis. This music really doesn't sound like anything by any other composer. The second and third movements, "Processional/Variations" and "Blues/Fantasy hint at popular rhythms, but with abstract harmonies.
Morrills music is never dull; there is always something that catches the ear -- a turn of phrase or duration, an unexpected harmony, all within a fairly traditional, even popular context but still seeming new.

The first work on the CD, Dance Bagatelles, also from 1994, performed by the KIugherz-Timmons duo, is also indicative of his originality. In these pieces, Morrill uses a more traditional tonal language, even venturing into realms of jazz and "walking bass" lines. Just at the moment the music is about to become "hokey," he does something unexpected. This is music that is essentially winsome, but not so accommodating as to become trite. It walks a fine line toward popular appeasement, but there is always something to save it. The Dance Bagatelles is very challenging for the violist (no candidates for viola jokes need apply), especially in the very final movement "Last Dance" which is tuneful and invigorating -- a "neat" piece. It's worth buying the record just to hear this one. Let me mention that the eight pieces that comprise the Dance Bagatelles are each under two minutes in length, a study in the minute. Bach has a distinct character, and the brevity of form makes succinctness and concentrated statement an imperative.

I was not as interested in the rather lengthy Fantasy (1995) for solo cello -- although it held up pretty well for an extended solo cello piece. I also wish that Capstone had mixed some of Morrill's purely electronic efforts in with the acoustic ones. The program notes piqued my curiosity about his work in this vein and I didn't want to have to wait for another CD to experience it.

In any case, caps off to Capstone for issuing a winner."


Twentieth Century Music - May 1999 - by Crystal Elizabeth

"Dexter Morrill's Capstone recording, Music for Strings includes piano in the mix, and ranges in style from post-minimal and post-bop sensibilities, back to classic mid-2Oth-century expressions which allude to Bartók and other Eastern European delights. The delightful opening eight Dance Bagatelles, for viola and piano, find performers Laura KIughera and Jill Timmons in moods variously playful and somber, always brief and to the point. As is typical, Morrill's String Quartet No. 2 (1995) speaks of more serious and lengthy matters, but in a related vocabulary in three movements the urgent "Motion Study," a stately "Processional/Variations," and appealing "Blues/Fantasy" all argued expertly by the Tremont String Quartet A Fantasy of a different stripe is the ensuing extended work for soulful cellist James Kirkwood, beginning with the questionings of Bach and the sustains of the String Quartet, and then inexplicably launching off into material that seems to bear more than passing resemblance to Rimsky Korsakov's Capriccia Espagnole, without acknowledging as much. Here again, Morrill's experiences in jazz and popular music make their effect -- another motive has the lilt of the old tunes "Do You Know Where You're Goin' To?," and Lionel Bart's "As Long As He Needs Me" from Oliver! In a nice symmetrical move, the album closes with Three Lyric Pieces, for violin and piano, in higher-timbre contrasts to the opening work, and played by the same performers."