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Dillon: Appendage & Other Stories

Dillon / Saxton / O'dwyer
Release Date: 02/09/2010 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1170  
Composer:  Lawrence Dillon
Performer:  Allison GagnonSheila BrownRebecca NussbaumJacui Carrasco,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DILLON Appendage. 1 Entrance. 2 Exit. 3 Still Point 4 1 Ransom Wilson, cond; 1 Lauren Flanigan (sop); 4 Theodora Hanslowe (mez); 2 Cinny Strickland, 3 Read more class="ARIAL12">Robert Beseda (spkr); 1 Stephen Williamson (cl); Taimur Sullivan ( 1 tenor sax, 3 alto sax); 2 Elizabeth Ranson (fl); 2 Rebecca Nussbaum (alto fl); 1 Arnaud Sussman, 2 Jacqui Carrasco (vn); 1 Richard O’Neill, 2 Sheila Browne, 4 Hsin-Yun Huang (va); 1 Clancy Newman, 3 Adele O’Dwyer (vc); 3 Paul Sharpe (db); 1 Melvin Chen, 2 Allison Gagnon, 3 Robert Rocco, 4 Thomas Sauer (pn); 3 Judith Saxton (tpt) ALBANY TROY1170 (63:00)

I think music should be fun, moving, mysterious, beautiful, funny, and frightening. I don’t expect it to be all of those things on the same CD, however. Nevertheless, this CD is all of those things and more, and even though I had never heard of Lawrence Dillon until this disc came in the mail, I now must number myself among his fans. Born in 1959, he studied at Juilliard, and in 1985 became the youngest composer to earn a doctorate there. He then joined its faculty, and now is composer in residence at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Appendage and Other Stories is the second collection of his music to appear on Albany Records. The first (TROY513) contains three more chamber works: Furies and Muses, Devotion , and Jests and Tenderness.

To the list that opens this review I could have added that I like music that makes me think. Dillon’s does just that. It helps that each of these four works involves a singer or an actor, and provocative texts. The texts are Dillon’s own, except in the case of Still Point , which is a setting of a poem by Shona Simpson. Entrance and Exit , which bookend the CD, are meditations on impermanence. In both, the actors are supported by just the right amount of music, and a happy synergy is the result. The former, with its nested scenarios, is gentle and even fragile, while the latter is jovial and likeably absurd (Baby Ruth wrappers?!), albeit no less profound. Both make you want to pay better attention, not just to the music but to the world in which you live. Still Point is an ecstatic love sonnet, and it demonstrates Dillon’s sensitivity for a sung vocal line. The writing for viola (here realized by Hsin-Yun Huang) and piano (Thomas Sauer) also is highly evocative.

In 1992, Dillon became frustrated with a work in progress that was not going his way, so he discarded it, balling up his notes and throwing them to the end of the piano. He soon was haunted by this “disturbing heap,” which was “casting silent accusations of abandonment in [his] direction.” The result was a new piece, which Dillon called Appendage . Like the other works on this CD, Appendage is not just music but music theater. I can imagine Cathy Berberian leaping on a piece like this, were she still alive. I can imagine Sylvia Plath writing a text like this … again, were she still alive. The obsessive frustration of incompleteness is rendered wryly amusing, moving, and nightmarish in Appendage , which is both a tour de force for the composer and for the performers, soprano Flanigan in particular. This is a terrific work. In fact, it is so good it made me weep. And Dillon, with his vivid imagination and his ear for vocal and instrumental color, seems to be a terrific composer. I’m paying attention now.

These performances were recorded over the course of nearly two years and in two different locations. Nevertheless, there is a stylistic consistency here that serves the music well, and the engineering is similarly consistent. Many of the performers are professionals associated with the Metropolitan Opera or the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and everybody does an excellent job here. Getting these various talents together and making this CD must have been a problem in logistics, but no strain is apparent.

If you have any interest in contemporary American chamber music, you really should hear Appendage and Other Stories.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Entrance by Lawrence Dillon
Performer:  Allison Gagnon (Piano), Sheila Brown (Viola), Rebecca Nussbaum (Alto Flute),
Jacui Carrasco (Violin), Cinny Strickland (Actor), Elizabeth Ransom (Flute)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2007; USA 
Still point by Lawrence Dillon
Performer:  Theodora Hanslowe (Mezzo Soprano), Huang Hsin-Yun (Viola), Thomas Sauer (Piano)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2007; USA 
Appendage by Lawrence Dillon
Performer:  Richard O'Neill (Viola), Stephen Williamson (Clarinet), Lauren Flanigan (Soprano),
Taimur Sullivan (Saxophone), Arnad Sussmann (Violin), Clancy Newman (Cello),
Melvin Chen (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1993; USA 
Exit by Lawrence Dillon
Performer:  Robert Rocco (Piano), Paul Sharpe (Double Bass), Judith Saxto (Trumpet),
Adele O'dwyer (Cello), Robert Beseda (Actor), Taimr Sullivan (Saxophone)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: 2007; USA 

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