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Shapey: Radical Traditionalism / Ny Music Ensemble, Et Al

Release Date: 08/21/2007 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80681   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ralph Shapey
Performer:  Wanda MaximilianJohn HillRoger MoultonEverett Zlatoff-Mirsky,   ... 
Conductor:  Robert Black
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lexington String QuartetNew York New Music Ensemble
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 25 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SHAPEY Variations. 1 String Quartets: No. 6; 2 No. 7. 3 Fromm Variations. 4 Three for Six 5 Wanda Maximilien (pn); 1 Robert Black (pn), 4 cond; 5 Lexington Qrt of Read more the Contemporary Players of the Univ of Chicago; 2 Qrt of the Contemporary Players of the Univ of Chicago; 3 New York New Music Ens 5 NEW WORLD 80681 (2 CDs: 144:51)

Ralph Shapey (1921–2002) held deep respect for great composers before him, hence the epithet of “Radical Traditionalism,” a tag allowed by the composer and given to him by Leonard Meyer and Bernard Jacobson, and also the title of this two-fer. This issue contains the most lucid and comprehensive booklet notes on a composer and his works that I have ever come across in the context of a CD issue. The author is a pupil of the composer’s, Robert Carl (I am presuming this to be the same Robert Carl who reviews for Fanfare , but I may be wrong). It also provides the perfect opportunity to (re-)assess the music of Shapey. Shapey’s music is frequently described as “uncompromising,” and indeed it would be difficult to find a more apt description of this music so often influenced by Varèse. The musical surface is replete with massively disjunct intervals and sforzandos; yet there is an underlying lyricism there, too, made explicit in Variations 11–16 but actually running through the whole. Wanda Maximilien plays with great assurance. The recording is clear and focused.

The rest of the first disc is taken up with string quartets. The slight name change of the performing quartets here is presumably because two players remain constant, while two change. Both hail from the institution where Shapey was famously professor of composition. The Sixth Quartet of 1963 is marked by dense counterpoint (Shapey’s music is essentially linear in nature) and moments of stillness in which time seems to stand still. A drone seems to freeze the ongoing argument, providing an opportunity for solo violin ruminations. There is no resolution at the end of the piece, no rapprochement between the two extremes.

The Seventh Quartet dates from 1968–1972. The five-year gestation gives a clue as to the struggle Shapey underwent in delivering this piece to the world. It is contemporary with the Carter and Rochberg Third Quartets. Carl points this out, and expands by paralleling Shapey with Carter in his segmenting of the quartet into two duos (violin/viola and violin/cello) and Shapey with Rochberg in having a first movement comprising fantasies and interludes (although note that Shapey could not have known these other works). While the Sixth came in at just under 12 minutes, the first movement alone of the Seventh is just over 14, and the work as a whole lasts some 35. It is the outer movements that provide the heft, with the witty, jaunty Scherzando lasting a mere three minutes and, perhaps surprisingly, the Largo coming in at exactly four minutes yet with much to say in that time-span. There is much variety here—particularly appealing is a restrained section with playful pizzicato accompaniment around 10 minutes into the first movement. The finale is a towering edifice of a Passacaglia. With cello now tuned down to a low G, darkness falls until finally a sense of uneasy resolution hovers over the close.

The Fromm Variations dates from 1973. The stark simplicity of the opening chorale is striking. Indeed, parts, or the entirety, of his theme are used as anchor points throughout the 52-minute duration of the Variations . All credit to Robert Black’s stamina. The performer’s concentration never flags throughout this immense span of chorale and 31 variations. Some play is there (try the staccato chords in the Sixth Variation, for example) as is peace (the 16th is a particular islet of calm), but what impresses most is the sheer rigor of it all. This is, make no mistake, exhausting listening. On the recording side, perhaps the bass end could hold greater focus (as at the end of the 20th variation).

The title Three for Six (1979) refers, quite simply, to three movements for six players. The work—scored for flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, violin, and cello—was composed while Shapey was composer in residence at Tanglewood. Shapey’s canvas has more colors to it here than the shrill fanfares of the first movement (whose busier passages certainly suggest a greater number of instruments than is actually present). The overriding quiet of the slow movement is most beautiful, a beauty of tissue-thin delicacy; the playfulness of the short finale acts as an effective livener.

All of the recordings presented here are reissues from the CRI catalog. Their reappearance in this form is more than welcome, as is the bibliography and discography so thoughtfully included in the booklet. An important release.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

Variations (21) for Piano by Ralph Shapey
Performer:  Wanda Maximilian (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1978; USA 
Quartet for Strings no 6 by Ralph Shapey
Performer:  John Hill (Cello), Roger Moulton (Violin), Everett Zlatoff-Mirsky (Viola),
Elliott Golub (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lexington String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1963; USA 
Quartet for Strings no 7 by Ralph Shapey
Performer:  Elliott Golub (Violin), Barbara Haffner (Cello), Everett Zlatoff-Mirsky (Viola),
Lee Lane (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lexington String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1972; USA 
Variations (31) for Piano "Fromm Variations" by Ralph Shapey
Performer:  Robert Black (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Notes: Composition written: USA (1966).
Composition revised: USA (1972 - 1973). 
Three for Six by Ralph Shapey
Conductor:  Robert Black
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New York New Music Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1979; USA 

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