under the generous and imaginative leadership of Richard Brooks, has
been flooding my mailbox with all its latest issues. One disc that
has stood out, at least for me, is Music for Keyboard Instruments with compositions entirely by Allen Brings, the well-known Professor
of Music at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College in
Flushing, New York. Brings shows his very impressive versatility on
this disc as he appears in the roles of composer, pianist, conductor,
and teacher, the last through his candid and very informative booklet
notes for the CD. He even helped design the CD cover. The program
here offers and interesting variety of keyboard sounds moving from
piano to harpsichord, back to piano, then on to organ, and finally
a harpsichord concerto with string accompaniment, conducted by the
composer, that might well be the beset American harpsichord concerto
on the market today.
While some of Capstone's
records, particularly those featuring electronic music, seem very
separated from the history of music, almost as though they are creating
some sub-musical genre of their own, this one strikes at least on
listener as a true extension of the traditions of music. Admitted
by the composer himself, we hear "continuations" here of Bach, Purcell,
Scarlatti, a touch of Messiaen, that are in no way "copies" or "plagiarisms,"
but genuine extensions of main line music history. There is a real
composer's voice here with no padding, no filler, no unnecessary notes.
He says what he has to say and then stops. No grandiose posturings
or insincere gestures occur in this music.
The two most important
pieces on the disc are the opening Five Pieces (1980) for piano
in which the composer says "I believe that I have revealed more of
my innermost thoughts than in anything else I have written." The five
contrasting movements of this piece are very idiomatically written
for the piano and would definitely reward the pianist willing to undertake
them. Their clear contrasts and appropriate length should make them
attractive to audiences as well. The concluding piece, Concerto
da camera #4, wonderfully solves the problem of balancing the
harpsichord against a string orchestra. Inspired by hearing music
for a similar combination by Bach at the La Fenice Theatre in Venice,
the composer has learned the older master's lesson well. The two participants
never get in each other's way and the soloist is never obscured by
Brings has been well served
on this CD by Genevieve Chin, pianist, Bradley Brookshire, harpsichordist,
and Stephen Tharp, organist. Need an unusual gift for a musical friend
during the holidays? Get this: Capstone 8679."
Music Connoisseur - Vol. 9, No. 2 - by Laurie Hudicek
"Allen Brings seems
quite comfortable composing for all types of keyboard instruments.
This recording includes works for piano, harpsichord, organ, and chamber
ensemble, and one can hear more than traces of the composer throughout.
After the first hearing of the CD, this listener was exhausted and
could only imagine the fatigue of the performers. The music possesses
such an unyielding drive that, whatever the composer's intent, it
may be lost on us before we ever get to the last work. But after several
hearings Brings' voice became amazingly clear to me, and the gems
in his music, not readily apparent upon first acquaintance, were now
quite recognizable. For it's obvious that Brings looks back and takes
classical forms as structure for his works. Although the harmonies
he chooses are much more suited to this past century, his pieces seem
to marry the past with the present to create an unusually perplexing
Five Pieces (1980)
for piano is described by the composer as a "very serious divertimento,"
with the two outer movements being "tempestuous," the second
and fourth movements being more "intimate," and the third
being a scherzo, thus creating a type of arch form. The odd-numbered
pieces are played breathlessly by Chinn. Each could be classified
a perpetual motion work with little rhythmic variety, but a tirelessly
driving regularity. The second and fourth pieces, however, are brimming
with beautiful, yet haunting, harmonies that seem to stray. Brings'
other piece for piano, Sonatine (1972), played by the composer,
is remarkably similar to Five Pieces because of the presence
of the monotonous driving rhythms and roving harmonies. According
to Brings, there is no system to the harmonies he uses, but to the
listener this can sometimes create a feeling of harmonic wandering.
These two characteristics do more than foreshadow the works to come.
Amazingly, Brings has
clearly defined his own voice within the first 10 minutes of this
recording, and it is reincarnated in the harpsichord pieces Tre
esercizi (1986). Brookshire is also subjected to the fixed rhythm
of the composer. These pieces, inspired by Scarlatti, Purcell, Bach,
and others of that period, are highly contrapuntal and imitative,
and the middle movement is built upon a ground bass. Frankly, this
listener finds it eerie to hear the harmonies of today subjected to
the forms and instrument treatments of 300 years ago. Although this
is not uncommon with today's composers, it seems Brings is trying
to resurrect those Baroque masters, and the result is a macabre vision!
The first of Six Praeludia
for Organ (1991-93) was composed for a wedding, but the following
five pieces were intended for church organists to play before, during,
and after the liturgy. Each hints of Brings' nomadic harmonies (the
first has an astonishing G major chord at the end!), and exhausting
tempi. However, the character of these pieces is similar to the previous
works, evocative and eerie, with glimmers of the unknown. One might
imagine the reaction of the little old blue-haired lady in the front
pew during the service where the organist played Brings' music. This
listener would love to attend a service such as this! Perhaps we need
a 20th-century church and mass to go with this music. Luckily, Brings
intends that it be performed in recital, for which it is best suited.
So far on this recording, Brings delves into the past for his structure,
searches the outer limits for his harmonies, and yet seems to shun
the 20th century altogether when it comes to those impossible rhythms
we pianists love to hate.
However, this is not an
entire blessing, for Brings challenges his performer's stamina and
gives the words "perpetual motion" a new meaning.
The final work on this
recording, Concerto da camera No. 4 for harpsichord and strings (1994),
is by far the most passionately performed, rhythmically diverse, and
harmonically compelling of all the works. While there are traces of
that undying rhythmic uniformity in the harpsichord, the strings add
long-awaited color changes, both sensuous and exotic.
In the classically standard
three-movement form, this concerto displays a deeper side of the composer.
Particularly, the opening statement of the second movement passacaglia
is breathtakingly presented in the bass. One can finally feel at ease
with Brings' never ending quest to unite the past and present. This
is clearly his most thought-provoking work, one that certainly makes
this recording worth owning!"