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Making Of A Medium Vol 17 - American Images Vol 3

Release Date: 02/27/2007 
Label:  Crystal   Catalog #: 947   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  David LiptakArnold BlackRobert MannCharles Ruggiero,   ... 
Performer:  Elsa Ludewig-VerdehrSilvia RoedererWalter Verdehr
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdehr Trio
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews


LIPTAK Commedia. BLACK/BOLCUM Envoi. MANN Katchi-Katchi. RUGGIERO Collage—1912. HARTWAY _five postcards (from michigan). Read more class="COMPOSER12">CURTIS-SMITH Trio

This is the 17th volume in The Verdehr Trio’s (Walter Verdehr, violin; Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr, clarinet; and Silvia Roederer, piano) ongoing and musically enterprising “The Making of a Medium” series. I favorably reviewed Vol. 16 in 29:6, Vol. 15 in 27: 2, and Vol. 11 in 25:2. Vol. 15 made the cut for my 2003 Want List, and I have auditioned several earlier volumes in the course of my non- Fanfare musical wanderings. The offering under review exemplifies The Verdehr Trio’s typical musical eclecticism and performance prowess. To date, it has commissioned over 200 works from such known composers ranging from Gian Carlo Menotti, Jennifer Higdon, Bright Sheng, and Wolfgang Rihm, to hosts of comparatively unknown but eminently worthy practitioners. Each volume I have encountered has proven to be a rewarding journey of discovery.

This review will, alas, be yet another exercise in trying to describe an essentially non-verbal art in words.

James J. Hartway’s five postcards (from michigan) provides this disc’s most overt point of departure. Hartway was born in 1944, studied composition with H. Owen Reed and Ruth Shaw Wylie, and is currently distinguished professor of music at Detroit’s Wayne State University. As the liner notes state, his 2003 five postcards (from michigan) is a “sonic travelogue.” (The e. e. cummings-like choice of uniformly lower case letters in the titles is that of the composer.) “It depicts five locations with which Michigan residents are likely to be familiar. However, because of the universal character of the selected sights, any audience should be able to relate to the work.” Hartway’s language is tonal, pithy, resourceful, and in the end, evocative. I found the second postcard, “carillon tower (beaumont at msu)” and the fourth, “mysterious dunes (sleeping bear),” particularly haunting. “carillon tower” is based on Big Ben’s chime motive contrapuntally deployed over quietly shifting harmonies. The hushed “mysterious dunes (sleeping bear)” is a study in musical minimalism wherein Hartway achieves the maximum in affective wallops through the barest of means, including the quiet strumming, on a couple of occasions, on the piano’s exposed strings (George Crumb would have smiled). The final vignette, “fudge island, (mackinac),” pays homage to both ragtime and Debussy in its near quotation of “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner . Closer examination shows that the entire suite is based on a couple of key intervals and rhythmic patterns from which Hartway constructs five highly contrasted and fully contained universes.

Hartway’s musical virtues inform the remaining Michigan-connected composers on this release, or vice-versa. David Liptak was born in 1949, and taught at Michigan State University from 1976 to 1980. He is currently professor of composition at the Eastman School of Music. His Commedia , composed in 2001, is an evocation of the 16th-century commedia dell’arte . Harlequin, Columbine, Pierrot, Pulcinella, and Scaramouche are all given highly characterful portraits. One cannot listen to this music without recalling Schoenberg’s world-storming Pierrot lunaire . His atonal and highly instrumentally colored settings of Albert Giraud’s poems will, of necessity, haunt any composer with the temerity to deal with any of the commedia dell’arte characters. Liptak’s language is appropriately jagged and disjunct. It is in the quiet second section, “Intermezzo—Pierrot,” that he practices his most humanistically telling magic by forging the link between all of those overtly comedic characters?with their heroism, pathos, wisdom, cluelessness, and grotesqueries?and ourselves.

Arnold Black (1923–2000) was a Juilliard School graduate in violin and composition who played in the NBC Symphony, and became assistant concertmaster first in the Baltimore Symphony and later in the National Symphony. As a composer he produced numerous concert and film scores, an opera, and collaborated with William Bolcom, who currently teaches at Michigan State University. At the time of his death, Black had been working on a piece for the Verdehr Trio, an unfinished portion of which his wife later found on his computer. This fragment, titled Envoi , was forwarded to Bolcom who completed it overnight?just in time for its performance at Black’s memorial service in New York at Symphony Space on October 25, 2000. Envoi is a bitter-sweet, melancholy bit of post-Romanticism on this otherwise modernistic release. Robert Mann’s Katchi-Katchi , composed in 2002, goes to the opposite extreme. Robert Mann (b. 1920) is the Robert Mann who founded the Juilliard String Quartet and for 51 years was its first violinist. The Juilliard Quartet was the quartet in residence at Michigan State University for nine years, thus qualifying his piece for “Michigan Connection” status. Despite his quartet performances, conducting, and teaching, Mann has over the years found the time to compose over 70 works, more than 30 of them for narrator and various instrumentations, which he performs with his wife, actress Lucy Rowan. Katchi-Katchi , a sort of Japanese folk version of Little Red Riding Hood , falls into that category. It was originally conceived for narrator, piano, and violin. In this version for the Verdehr Trio, the clarinet assumes the role of the narrator. The music is spiky, delightfully dissonant, and successfully conjures up the flavors and fragrances of the Noh theater. It is also an instrumental tour de force utilizing altered playing techniques and, at one point, the use of a police whistle. This 12-and-a-half minute track alone is worth the price of admission.

Charles Ruggiero (b. 1947) is currently professor of music at Michigan State University. His Collage?1912 , composed for the Verdehr Trio in 2001, is inspired by his painter daughter’s still lifes (one of her paintings is enshrined as the cover art on this release). He has thus “artificially arranged” to quote his own contribution to the liner notes, “one or more snippets taken from one composition by each of the following twelve composers: Béla Bartók, Irving Berlin, Claude Debussy, W. C. Handy, Charles Ives, Gustav Mahler, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, James Scott, Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, and Joaquin Turina.” That he manages to pull so many divergent musical voices into a compellingly coherent whole says something about our insistence on adhering to musicological categories. That he does it so deftly says a lot about his skill as a composer.

C. Curtis-Smith (b. 1941) is the only composer on this release previously unknown to me. He is currently professor of music at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. Among his other musical achievements, he invented the technique of bowing the piano using flexible bows made of monofilament nylon line?a technique used by the eminent George Crumb among others. His three-movement Trio, composed in 2003, is typical of his work—tonal but not afraid to push its boundaries, dramatically pointed, and disarmingly lyrically inspired.

The sound is up to Crystal’s high standards, and the performances are, thus far, definitive. I hope I’ve piqued your curiosity.

FANFARE: William Zagorski
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Works on This Recording

Commedia by David Liptak
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdehr Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001; USA 
Envoi by Arnold Black
Performer:  Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr (Clarinet), Silvia Roederer (Piano), Walter Verdehr (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdehr Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2000; USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 20 Secs. 
Notes: This work was composed in collaboration with William Bolcom. 
Collage 1912 by Charles Ruggiero
Performer:  Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr (Clarinet), Silvia Roederer (Piano), Walter Verdehr (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdehr Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001; USA 
Length: 12 Minutes 33 Secs. 
five postcards (from michigan) by James J. Hartway
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdehr Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2003; USA 
Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Piano by Curtis Curtis-Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdehr Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2000; USA 
Katchi-Katchi by Robert Mann
Performer:  Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr (Clarinet), Silvia Roederer (Piano), Walter Verdehr (Violin)
Written: 2002; USA 
Length: 9 Minutes 52 Secs. 

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