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Games Of Light

Alwyn / Koechlin / Rozsa / Arnone
Release Date: 01/14/2014 
Label:  Msr   Catalog #: 1457   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Charles KoechlinWilliam AlwynMiklós RózsaArthur Willner
Performer:  Francesca Arnone
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



INSIGHTS: New Music for Double Bass Anthony Stoops (db); 1 David Maki (pn); 2 Ching-chu Hu (pn) ALBANY 1457 (62:22)


MAKI 1 Out of the Woods. Go Get It! LAMB Mingus Among Us. HU Beyond. Read more class="SUPER12">2 Insights. ALLEMEIER Hmm


Michael Lee’s liner notes for this remarkable disc indicate that Anthony Stoops “wants nothing less than to enlarge and intensify a corpus of solo double bass music that he hopes will solemnize the double bass as an important solo instrument….[Yet] Oddly Stoops has indicated his knowledge that his mission will fail, just as the similar missions of past virtuosi of the instrument have failed.” My own personal comment to this is that if all classical bassists had a tone as rich, warm, round, and beautiful as Stoops’s, and if the compositions for that instrument were on as high a level as most of the works heard here, it just might succeed.


For Stoops has, to my ear, the most richly beautiful bass tone since the late jazz master Charles Mingus, who is paid tribute to on this CD in an eight-minute work by Marvin Lamb. His notes stream effortlessly from top to bottom of his range, the highest notes having the beautiful sound of a cello. I have not heard its like in 40 years. And that is always half the battle, to make the instrument itself sound pleasing and mellifluous to the ear.


David Maki’s little suite Out of the Woods reflects the composer’s own background as both a classical and jazz pianist. The title, say the notes, refers to the wide leaps necessary to play this “complex, jazz-informed tour de force .” Every single movement is a small gem; the music bounces and propels itself through the use of real jazz rhythms, the lack of improvisation notwithstanding. Maki’s own piano solo in the last movement, titled “Circles,” has a sort of Jaki Byard feel to it, and throughout Stoops’s bass alternately thrusts and sings in both a musical and lyrical fashion.


Considering Stoops’s similarity to Mingus’s tone, Marvin Lamb’s Mingus Among Us works brilliantly as a fusion of jazz rhythms with the ideals “reflected in one of Luciano Berio’s Sequenzas. ” One of the features of Stoops’s playing, besides his tone, that really impressed me was his light, almost effortless fingering—and I laughed at the occasional verbal asides he throws into this piece. Mingus’s virtuosity in playing glissandos on the instrument was also an inspiration for some passages, and towards the end the music begins to resemble some of the extended solos that Mingus himself took in the late 1960s or early 70s. But I have a comment, and Stoops may or may not like hearing this: There are very few classical bassists who can even play this music like this, let alone also evoke such a full tone throughout the range, so that I doubt that it will become a repertoire piece for the instrument. A pity.


Ching-chu Hu’s Beyond is a fascinating piece in terms of the technical effects he creates for the instrument, but in the end I felt that it conveyed very little to me musically other than as a nicely complex piece of the sort generally written by university composers. If you enjoy effect for its own sake, however, you’ll undoubtedly find Beyond more interesting than I did. Perhaps the thing that I do not respond to in this piece is its episodic nature, the fact that the various pieces of the musical puzzle—though interesting in themselves—really don’t have much to say to one another. It is a sampler and not a quilt. As the piece progressed, the tempo picked up and the bass work became busier, yet still conveyed little or nothing to me.


John Allmeier’s Hmm takes a simple concept, that of tapping the steering wheel and humming along while driving, and expands on it in a piece lasting almost 10 minutes. The difference between this piece and Beyond is that, after a fairly dull and uneventful opening of “bass humming,” the music develops both rhythmically and contrapuntally, at least until one reaches a bowed lyrical episode in the middle that seems to have no relationship to the stated intent of the piece but is an interesting (and unrelated) diversion. Further on, the bassist is instructed to hum a theme while playing his own counterpoint on the bass, a process that is abandoned as the music does (eventually) develop in a slow manner, beginning with short rhythmic licks interspersed with single-string slides (portamento), but eventually becoming busier and more virtuosic as it moves along. Again, this is a fascinating classical piece based on jazz principles (Allmeier, the notes tell us, is also a guitarist)—and, once again, evoking (at least to my ears) the ghost of Mingus—as does Maki’s short (six-minute) piece Go Get It!


Where I found Hu’s Beyond rather too episodic for my taste, I really loved Insights, the final work in this program. Here, Hu channels the ghost of Henry Cowell, with his strange harmonic twists and his playing the insides of the piano as well as the keyboard. (Yes, the liner notes say this, but I had the exact same idea just listening to it before I read the notes.) Perhaps because Hu works here with shorter fragments, he ties them together much better in producing a work that evolves and grows musically. Moreover, in this piece, too, Hu seems to be intermixing Asian rhythms with jazz ones (although he is the one composer on this set who is not identified as having any kind of jazz background). The second of its three movements, titled “Drift Away,” is more like ambient music, but in this instance I loved the effects that Hu created with the plucked piano strings played against the softly and deftly plucked (and bowed) bass. The fragmentary opening passages eventually give way to a simply gorgeous melody played arco by the bass while the pianist takes his hands out of the piano strings and plays a steady but gentle ostinato rhythm behind him. In the last movement, “Dance of Pride,” Hu sets up another sort of ostinato rhythm, one that is not really jazz but is certainly syncopated, and here his own playing of the piano part and Stoops’s playing of the bass line set up an ongoing rhythmic dialogue that falls through several chromatic “trapdoors” and contains, at one point, a bass line that Stoops certainly inflects with a true jazz feeling (though Hu’s piano resolutely avoids it).


The sum total is a disc that, on the face of it, could have been either painful or a bore to listen to, but ended up being a real delight.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1.
Les Chants de Nectaire, 32 pieces for flute ("After A. France: La révolte des anges"), Op. 198 by Charles Koechlin
Performer:  Francesca Arnone (Flute)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1944 
Venue:  Jones Concert Hall, Baylor University Sc 
Length: 28 Minutes 5 Secs. 
2.
Divertimento for flute solo by William Alwyn
Performer:  Francesca Arnone (Flute)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1939 
Venue:  Jones Concert Hall, Baylor University Sc 
Length: 13 Minutes 34 Secs. 
3.
Sonata for Flute solo by Miklós Rózsa
Performer:  Francesca Arnone (Flute)
Period: 20th Century 
Venue:  Jones Concert Hall, Baylor University Sc 
Length: 16 Minutes 19 Secs. 
4.
Sonata for flute, Op. 34 by Arthur Willner
Performer:  Francesca Arnone (Flute)
Period: Modern 
Venue:  Jones Concert Hall, Baylor University Sc 
Length: 10 Minutes 51 Secs. 

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