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Augenblick - Works By Stark, Gallagher, Wadsworth, Jones, Likhuta, Itoh / Turner, Cornell University Wind Ensemble

Stark / Gallagher / Cornell Wind Ens / Johnson
Release Date: 04/10/2012 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1344   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Christopher StarkRyan GallagherZachary WadsworthCatherine Likhuta,   ... 
Performer:  Derek RoddyCatherine Likhuta
Conductor:  Cynthia Johnston Turner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cornell University Wind Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

AUGENBLICK Cynthia Johnston Turner, cond; Catherine Likhuta (pn 1 ); Derek Roddy (drumkit 2 ); Cornell University Wind Ens ALBANY 1344 (71:28)

STARK Augenblick. GALLAGHER 2 Exorcism. WADSWORTH A Symphony of Glances: Read more class="ARIAL12i"> Down the Long Desolate Streets of Stars. LIKHUTA 1 Out Loud. ITOH Daydreams. J. JONES Through the Veil

This disc collects six extremely varied works for wind ensemble, all by doctoral composition students at Cornell, and all (except Through the Veil ) commissioned by Cynthia Johnston Turner, the conductor on this disc and the University’s associate professor of performance (conducting) and director of wind ensembles. As she explains in the interview above, her intention was to provide an opportunity for the composers to challenge themselves, to push their compositional boundaries, and in this they have certainly delivered. If, occasionally, one can detect influences of other composers which have not been completely digested, that isn’t to disparage the success with which each of these pieces has been imagined and thought through—and all but one of the composers were under 30 when they wrote their pieces.

The work which gives the disc its title, Christopher Stark’s Augenblick , is an exploration of moments ( Augenblick , literally, ‘glance of an eye’ or moment). Two contrasted types of music, serene “ambient” and harsh, are juxtaposed without any transitions. If there is rather more of the former than the latter, this results in a euphonious sound world of long held notes, which drift in a slightly Ligetian way. There is some light and light-hearted use of electronics, and Stark reveals himself as rather playful: At one point I was convinced my CD player was skipping.

All this is in sharp contrast to Ryan Gallagher’s Exorcism , a four-minute blast of energy for soloist on drumkit and ensemble. Derek Roddy delivers a blistering heavy metal performance, and the winds rise to the challenge, in a work which, the composer says, is deliberately designed to exhaust the players! One could have wished that the soloist was given a little more presence in the production: more ‘air’ around him and a balance between the players that lifted him in relation to the band would have enabled even more of the visceral energy to come across. (Curious readers can find a video of this work, albeit with a different band, on YouTube.) Down the Long Desolate Streets of Stars is the second movement of Zachary Wadsworth’s A Symphony of Glances . Marked Andante molto sostenuto , this is nothing to do with Hollywood, but refers to poetic fragments by the English writer, T. E. Hulme, who was killed in the First World War. This is slow (more an Adagio ), with Brucknerian brass writing and lyrical solos in tenor saxophone and euphonium, the former very distinctive and attractive, the latter quite surprisingly flexible.

Catherine Likhuta plays the solo piano in her own piece, Out Loud , a concerto in one movement running a quarter of an hour. There is a substantial contribution from the percussion section which raises the question of whether “wind ensemble” is really the right term for this sort of band, given the important melodic contributions of, for example, the marimba. Anyway, what impresses here is the variety of interplay and genuine dialogue between the piano and the band. Whilst being somewhat sectional, there is an overall trajectory which convinces. Of Daydreams , the composer, Takuma Itoh, says, “I wanted to create an atmosphere of going in and out of a timeless suspension”—which strikes me as a pretty difficult challenge. The piece does create a sense of peaceful drifting underlying the often busy surfaces of burbling winds and tinkling percussion from which, from time to time, a tonal folk-song-like theme arises. It is impossible not to be reminded of Takemitsu in this piece and, while it doesn’t have all the subtlety, nuance, and contrast of the master’s music (the comparison being an object lesson in “less is more”), Daydreams does impress by its carefully judged, and imaginative, sonorities.

And, finally, the longest piece, Jesse Jones’s Through the Veil . This is certainly the most ambitious work, philosophically. It is intended to represent, more or less literally, the progress of an eternal soul from a pre-mortal existence to its incarnation in a body and the subsequent death of the body, allowing the soul to rejoin the cosmos. So we have a well-defined “point of entry”—passing through a “veil of forgetfulness”—and, later, a moment of death. This is not the place to ask why, if the soul is eternal, it is necessary to depict the second transition with “shrieking screams of death.” However, that short section is marvelously scored, based on a computer frequency analysis of a real human scream. It actually sounds rather impressively grand. There then follows a long final section in which the soul again passes through the veil into infinity. Turner reports that this piece gave the players difficulty in coming to terms with it in rehearsal and, I must admit, it gave me difficulty. Partly this is due to the presence, unremarked in the CD booklet, of three amplified sopranos who “aaaah” rather in the fashion of the women’s choir in “Neptune” from Holst’s The Planets . I felt Jones ran a great risk of rather less-elevated comparisons being made (i.e., with ’50s sci-fi B movies) but, on multiple listening, I decided that the effect works in the context of the particular wind writing and that the vocal parts could be listened to with interest. My other reservation—nothing to do with the disc per se —is that the program of this work may put off listeners. While it has nowhere near the vulgarity of Tod und Verklärung , I can imagine the literalness of the depiction could create resistance. Not believing in souls myself, I decided to think of the piece as a tripartite structure along the lines of Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” Sonata which, had that been the composer’s intention, could have provided the basis for a more substantial piece. Nevertheless, it is probably the piece on the disc which pushes boundaries the most and repays listening.

Most of the players in the Wind Ensemble are not music majors but, as Cynthia Johnston Turner points out, this is not necessarily detrimental to the standard of performance—which is superb. They sound completely committed to the music and, whatever its obvious difficulties, have it completely. Likewise, Turner’s readings of the pieces are, as far as I can tell without scores, compelling. Apart from my small cavil at the miking of the drumkit in Exorcism , mentioned above, the sound is excellent: forward but with plenty of space.

FANFARE: Jeremy Marchant
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Works on This Recording

Augenblick by Christopher Stark
Conductor:  Cynthia Johnston Turner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cornell University Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
Exorcism by Ryan Gallagher
Performer:  Derek Roddy (Drums)
Conductor:  Cynthia Johnston Turner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cornell University Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
A Symphony of Glances by Zachary Wadsworth
Conductor:  Cynthia Johnston Turner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cornell University Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
Out Loud by Catherine Likhuta
Performer:  Catherine Likhuta (Piano)
Conductor:  Cynthia Johnston Turner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cornell University Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: Ukraine/USA 
Daydreams by Takuma Itoh
Conductor:  Cynthia Johnston Turner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cornell University Wind Ensemble
Through The Veil by Jesse Jones
Conductor:  Cynthia Johnston Turner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cornell University Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 

Sound Samples

A Symphony of Glances: II. Down the long desolate streets
Out Loud
Through the Veil

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