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Narong Prangcharoen: Mantras / Moss, Borja, Hall, Gitter, Kinsella, McKiggan

Prangcharoen / Moss
Release Date: 04/10/2012 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1322   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Narong Prangcharoen
Performer:  Jonathan BorjaChristopher Janwong MckigganMichael HallBen Gitter,   ... 
Conductor:  Bruce Moss
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Newear Contemporary Chamber EnsembleThird Angle New Music EnsembleBowling Green State University Wind Symphony
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

PRANGCHAROEN Whispering. Between Heaven and Earth. Antahkarana. Bencharong. Verdana. Mantras NewEar Contemporary C Ens; Jonathan Borja (fl); Christopher Janwong McKiggan (pn); Michael Hall (va); Ben Gitter (vc); Brendan Kinsella (pn); Third Angle New Music Ens; John Sampen (s sax); Bruce Moss, cond; Bowling Green St U Wind Sym ALBANY 1322 (53:55)

One thing I’ve gotten pretty good at in 36 years of handling records from all over the globe is spotting the nationality of various names. Thus, I immediately Read more thought “Thai” when I saw the name of Narong Prangcharoen on the cover of the present CD. I’ve not actually encountered more than about a dozen works of Thai classical music, but the music of Prangcharoen fits rather securely within the bounds of the Thai music I’ve heard to date. As someone who has had numerous honors (including the Yoshino Irino Memorial Award) and whose music has been presented by major orchestras in Japan, Europe, Australia, and America, Prangcharoen may fairly be considered Thailand’s current leading composer, at least as far as international reputation is concerned. Albany has stepped outside the box, given the company’s usual focus on American composers, but this is a most welcome excursion on its part into an international arena.

In Whispering, the disc’s opening work, are to be heard absolutely fascinating sounds, some akin to the gongs and drums found in not-too-far-away Bali. Pentatonicism is on display in this work, and the marimba player also gets a good workout. The music is highly rhythmic and full of vitality. The title refers to the whispering that occurs between Mother Earth and mankind, and the work calls for soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, piano, and percussion.

Between Heaven and Earth, scored for flute and piano, is a dense work, with plenty of tone clusters in the piano that yield to a simple soaring line in the flute. At one point in this piece, the strings of the piano are damped by one hand while the other is pressing the keys, which produces a muffled and uniquely haunting drumlike sound. A driving ostinato in the left hand of the piano also makes its appearance, propelling the piece forward in excitement as the flute is taken up to its highest register. This is extremely effective writing all around.

Antahkarana is named for the ancient symbol used since antiquity as a tool for healing and meditation. Although scored for solo viola, the work spends a good bit of time up in the fairly high violin register, before descending into normal viola regions. Doleful glissandi enhance the essentially mournful mood of the piece.

A trio for flute, cello, and piano, Bencharong means “five-colored,” and describes the typical Thai porcelain decorated in red, blue, yellow, black, and white. In this work, the composer has sought to link certain sounds with each color while connecting the five movements smoothly. The moods range from the vigorous disjointed rhythmic activity of the opening movement through meditative sections of tranquility, where isolated sonorities hang in the air. Eventually, the textures give way to long lines in the solo flute undergirded by repeated pentatonic figurations in the piano.

Verdana is the Sanskrit word for “sensation”—the physical rather than emotional kind. The composer has used variation in texture, volume, and timbre to create the desired sensations in the listener. Mantras amounts to a concerto for soprano saxophone and wind ensemble (the largest forces to be found on the CD). The solo saxophone part, superbly rendered by John Sampen, alternates between pentatonic scalar figures and glides up to sustained high pitches. Other devices, such as trills in thirds, inventive arpeggiation, and the like, all lend interest to this imaginatively constructed work. I’m quite confident that other saxophonists will explore this gripping work as they become aware of it. Prangcharoen handles the wind ensemble masterfully, and the piece builds to a tremendously exciting conclusion on a concert C in altissimo by the soloist to thunderous drumming accompaniment.

While there is a fair amount of stylistic variety among the works on this recital, each is quite recognizable as a creation of its composer. I am quite captivated by this music, and the disc, superb in every parameter of production, will be a strong contender for my next Want List.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

Whispering by Narong Prangcharoen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Newear Contemporary Chamber Ensemble
Period: 21st Century 
Written: Thailand 
Between Heaven and Earth by Narong Prangcharoen
Performer:  Jonathan Borja (Flute), Christopher Janwong Mckiggan (Piano)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: Thailand 
Antahkarana by Narong Prangcharoen
Performer:  Michael Hall (Viola)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: Thailand 
Bencharong by Narong Prangcharoen
Performer:  Ben Gitter (Cello), Jonathan Borja (Flute), Brendan Kinsella (Piano)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: Thailand 
Verdana by Narong Prangcharoen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Third Angle New Music Ensemble
Period: 21st Century 
Written: Thailand 
Mantras by Narong Prangcharoen
Performer:  John Sampen (Saxophone)
Conductor:  Bruce Moss
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bowling Green State University Wind Symphony
Period: 21st Century 
Written: Thailand 

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