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Joel Hoffman: Three Paths / Karp, Hoffman, DecaCelli

Hoffman / Karp
Release Date: 09/11/2012 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1372   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Joel Hoffman
Performer:  Parry KarpChristopher KarpJoel Hoffman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Decacelli
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HOFFMAN Three Paths. 1 9 Pieces for Piano. 2 _…the first time and the last 3 1 Parry Karp (vc); 1 Christopher Karp (pn); 2 Joel Hoffman (pn); 3 DecaCelli ALBANY 1372 (58:55)
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Three Paths is the name of both this CD and the first of its three compositions. The collection is so named because each work follows a distinctly unique pathway.” So begin the liner notes to this strange and, at times, fascinating collection. The opening selection, written for the Karp brothers (who play it here), combines a minimalist opening section with alternating themes and strange, sometimes strongly syncopated rhythms. One of the more interesting aspects of this piece is its sharply differentiated themes, which seem not to fully relate to each other but simply follow on one to the next, a common tonality their only connection. Also, despite a few challenging passages, it seems to be not so much a piece demanding great virtuosity as one demanding great feeling and expression. I found Parry Karp’s tone in the upper register a bit wiry at times, perhaps as a means of expression, I’m not positive. The latter portion of Three Paths has an oddly oriental (perhaps Japanese?) modality to it.


The nine pieces for piano, played here by the composer, are divided more or less by duration. Each piece has the same tempo, quarter note = 96, and while the odd-numbered pieces are a little over two minutes long (ranging from 2:12 for No. 3 to 2:34 for No. 8), the even-numbered pieces run a little over a minute. Hoffman also states that in composing these works, he used silence “as a structural determinant” to “set the phrases of sound apart from each other.” Hoffman also uses fluctuating note-values, which lengthen or shorten at an apparent (but not real) whim of the performer, and these, too, give the music an oddly fragmented feel. It is almost (but not quite) like listening in as a composer sits in a practice room, working snatches of music for a piece he or she will eventually write, only here it is what the composer wrote. Sometimes Hoffman runs a metronome at the start of a piece; sometimes he just repeats the same note over and over again; and the pauses make you listen closer, which gets you more involved with the music. Gentle, fragmented little themes make up one piece; loud, jagged and rhythmically aggressive shards make up another. Astonishingly, the sound of the metronome ends the suite.


The last piece, …the first time and the last, started its life as a four-part vocal motet, but the composer quickly adapted it for four cellos. Then, a few months later, he was asked by the 10-piece cello ensemble DecaCelli to compose a piece for them, and immediately hit on the idea of expanding this work from four cellos to 10. Ironically, this 10-cello version premiered before the one for four cellos. Again, as in the piano pieces, juxtaposing themes and the use of silence as a compositional form play key roles in their structure. Unlike the piano pieces, Hoffman uses the ability of strings to sustain sounds to create unusual close and sometimes clashing harmonies, using specific timbres to enhance the effect. In other words, this is a piece in which the short thematic statements, the silences, and the way the instruments are played all combine to produce a piece that constantly fragments and, in a way, re-invents itself. The ending is a pure, lyrical, lovely melodic structure in C Major that could have been written by Gabrieli.


I found this to be a fascinating disc and will certainly be on the lookout for other works by Hoffman in the future.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1. Three Paths by Joel Hoffman
Performer:  Parry Karp (Cello), Christopher Karp (Piano)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: Canada 
2. Pieces for Piano (9) by Joel Hoffman
Performer:  Joel Hoffman (Piano)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: Canada 
3. …the first time and the last by Joel Hoffman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Decacelli
Period: 21st Century 
Written: Canada 

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