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Higdon: Chamber Music

Release Date: 02/14/2012 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1395   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jennifer Higdon
Performer:  John FadialTheresa BogardBeth VanderborghHicole Riner,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verismo Trio
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HIGDON Dash 1,2,4. Sonata for Alto Sax and Piano 3,4. Trumpet Songs 5,6. Song 1. Legacy 6,7. Piano Trio 6,7,8 1 Nicole Riner (fl); Scott Turpen ( 2 s-sax, Read more class="SUPER12">3 a-sax); 4 Theresa Bogard (pn); 5 Scott Meredith (tpt); 6 Rúbia Santos (pn); 7 John Fadial (vn); 8 Beth Vanderborgh (vc) ALBANY 1395 (57:12)

My tenure as Fanfare reviewer has afforded me the opportunity to become familiar with the music of many fine composers that I otherwise very likely would not have, and my consequent exposure to the music of Jennifer Higdon has been a particular joy. This composer is rightly recognized as one of America’s brightest compositional lights. Her music is personal, approachable, and original all at the same time, and leaves an indelible mark on the listener. It is consistently fine in its craftsmanship and inspiration, too. I have never heard a less than absolutely first-rate piece from her.

From the beginning of this CD, Higdon’s music grips the listener: The opening Dash, scored for the unusual combination of soprano saxophone, flute, and piano, engages the listener with its frenetic, driving vitality. It is very much a chamber music equivalent of the Furioso for Orchestra of Swiss composer, Rolf Liebermann. In neither work does the energy level ever let up with cascades of notes that must be adroitly handled by the performers.

Higdon’s Alto Saxophone Sonata is a mostly gentle exercise, designed to let the saxophone do what it does best, and that is to sing. It was originally written for the viola, also a very singing instrument. The opening movement, after an especially introspective introduction by the piano, brings the saxophone into play with wandering but pleasing lines. The piano accompaniment has tonally diffuse harmonic movement with occasional rhythmic interjections. In the second movement, the rhythmic activity picks up a good bit, with lots of jagged, angular writing, but Higdon provides a middle section wherein the solo instrument is given a beautiful flowing melodic line before the piece concludes with a rhythmic flurry. Saxophonist Scott Turpin evinces a pleasing saxophone sound, and exhibits a superb sense of line. Saxophonists will want to investigate both of these very different works, as they are significant additions to their repertory.

Trumpet Songs is the most tonally focused work in this recital. These pieces really do sound like songs, which in fact is exactly what they were before the composer made this arrangement for trumpet and piano. But trumpets can sing, too, and trumpeter Scott Meredith does just that, displaying a gorgeous tone and sense of phrasing. Consequently, these are not showy display pieces, but rather works that afford the soloist an opportunity simply to create beautiful sounds. I can say the same about the Song for solo flute, which is an exquisite display of the colors available on the flute, although the level of virtuosity required of the performer in this work is several notches above that in the trumpet pieces. I have always been slightly amused, though, at any piece of classical music named Song, because of the rather ubiquitous custom of Americans ignorant of classical music to refer to any such piece—even a Mahler symphony—as a “song.” But in Higdon’s case at least, the piece is well named.

Legacy for violin and piano is a very neoromantic work, really stunningly gorgeous in its melodic lines and the harmonies that undergird them. It was conceived to portray the parameters of life—the good and the bad alike—but I hear mostly “good” in this work, at least if one associates dissonance with “bad.” In the disc’s concluding Piano Trio, Higdon made a conscious effort to portray color in music, a subject that has always fascinated her. She states, “I often picture colors as if I were spreading them on a canvas, except I do so with melodies, harmonies, and through the instruments themselves.” Accordingly, the two movements of this work are entitled “Pale Yellow” and “Fiery Red.” Colors have long been associated with particular notes and keys by numerous composers. Rimsky-Korsakov and Scriabin particularly are noted for their color associations, and the latter even used a color organ to accompany certain of his works. I must say that this composer (yours truly) hears the first movement as more of a tan and the last movement as an intense blue-violet, not that it matters. In any case, the writing is unquestionably colorful, and the gentle first movement is contrasted by the fiery finale movement, that provides the perfect chiastic complement for the opening work on the CD. No “overt tonality” here, just palpable excitement!

Performances on this superbly recorded disc are all exemplary, and present the music in stellar fashion. This is simply a CD not to be foregone by anyone with any interest in the music of our own era.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

Trio for Piano and Strings by Jennifer Higdon
Performer:  John Fadial (Violin), Theresa Bogard (Piano), Beth Vanderborgh (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2003; USA 
Song by Jennifer Higdon
Performer:  Hicole Riner (Flute)
Period: 20th Century 
Legacy by Jennifer Higdon
Performer:  John Fadial (Violin), Rúbia Santos (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999; USA 
Dash by Jennifer Higdon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verismo Trio
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2001; USA 
Sonata for Alto Sax and Piano by Jennifer Higdon
Performer:  Scott Turpen (Saxophone), Theresa Bogard (Piano)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Trumpet Songs by Jennifer Higdon
Performer:  Scott Meredith (Trumpet), Rúbia Santos (Piano)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 

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