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Laurie Altman: On Course

Release Date: 09/09/2008 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1041   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Laurie Altman
Performer:  Caleb BurhansVesselin GellevZach BrockElizabeth Thompson,   ... 
Conductor:  Ruth OchsCarl Bettendorf
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 14 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ALTMAN South of New Jersey. 1 Homage à Stravinsky. 2 Calle de la Amargura. 3 Theme, Variations, and Finale. 3 3 Antarctic Songs. 4 On Course. 5 Come Dance with Me. 6 States of Waiting 1 Read more class="BULLET12b">• Ruth Ochs, cond; 2 Carl Christian Bettendorf, cond; 5 Vasselen Gellev (vn); Zach Brock (vn); 1,6 Jesse Mills (vn); 1,5,6 Caleb Burhans (va); 1,6 Elizabeth Thompson (vc); 1,6 Tomasz Rzecycki (vc); 2 Alistair MacRae (vc); 5 Kenneth Ellison (cl); 2 Gilad Harel (cl); 5 Tom Buckeleew (a sax, b cl); 2 Andrew Rathbun (t sax, s sax); 2 Fiona Newbury (tpt); 2 James Day (gtr); 2 Randall Bauer (pn); 2 Michael Fennely (pn); 3 Laurie Altman (pn); 4 Steven Beck (pn); 5 Randall Bauer (pn); 6 Scott Lee (db); 2 Patrice Michaels (sop); 3 Helen Richman (fl); 3 Yevgeny Faniuk (fl); 5 Elem Ney (bar); 4 Jason Treuting (vib) 5 ALBANY TROY 1041 (74:01)

Laurie Altman studied at Mannes. His lists his teachers as Lester Trimble and William Sydeman; he has worked with the Chicago Symphony in 1991 and with the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble. Altman has lectured at the Universities of North Carolina, Princeton, Rutgers, and New York.

A sense of dance is the connecting thread between all of these pieces. South of New Jersey (1997), for string quartet, was originally written for piano. The quartet version is not just an arrangement but is also an expansion of the original. Tightly organized sections vie with more easy-going, heavily jazz influenced passages for solo violin. The octet, Hommage à Stravinsky (2006) is heavily influenced by Stravinsky’s 1923 Symphonies of Wind Instruments , both thematically and harmonically. The characteristic sound of the sax, however, shifts the sound to a different level (Altman deliberately avoided Stravinsky’s original instrumentation). This is a hugely enjoyable piece. As Altman puts it, “Each of the three movements begins with a direct quote from Stravinsky’s work. What follows are my elaborations, the ways and places I might have chosen to take this work, had I written it in the first place.” The result is never less than fascinating. The chosen group of performers plays the rhythms astonishingly tightly. The recording (Judith Sherman, Westminster Choir College, Princeton, 2007) reflects the very highest professional standards. Detail is wonderfully rendered, but the sound picture is not dry in the least.

Calle de la Amargura (“Street of Bitterness”) sets words by the Cuban-born novelist/poet, Pablo Medina. The scoring is imaginative, as is the actual word-setting. Altman never distorts meanings, although he does experiment a little with syntax. The language of the text is English. Patrice Michaels’s light and agile soprano suits the scale of the chamber scoring perfectly. Michaels, incidentally, sings more Altman on a disc entitled “American Songs” (reviewed by Evan Dickerson in Fanfare 30:4).

The Theme, Variations, and Finale for two pianos of 1985 is the earliest dated work on the disc. Apparently a favorite work of the composer’s, it takes an E-Dorian theme through variations that increase in texture just as they decrease in proportion. There is a light dance feel to this piece; the theme itself exudes gentleness. Despite the expertise of the preceding pieces, this work seems the most confident in compositional terms—it sounds as if it comes from the pen of a composer utterly at ease with himself. The general aura is autumnal.

The Three Antarctic Songs dates from 2006. Texts are by the composer in response to a trip to Antarctica. To conjure up the sense of space breathed by that vast continent, Altman uses wide chord spacings and creates a sense of the unhurried, particularly in the long (8:55) central song. Elem Ney is the fine baritone who commissioned the work and who delivers the text with such authority. This set of songs is the most memorable music of the disc (although States of Waiting runs it a close contest). The octet On Course is overtly programmatic (of a sea journey). The colors the composer uses are predominantly bright and vibrant; the pure string sonority that opens Come Dance with Me (2006, for string quartet and piano) appears in high (and somewhat welcome) contrast. The music becomes increasingly more complex, and includes a tango and improvisations.

Finally, States of Waiting for solo voice (with text by David Herrstrom). The angst-laden text (describing a mother’s tense wait to hear whether her daughter’s cancer is confirmed) includes two inserted children’s songs as a means of personalizing the mother’s anguish. Scat singing is used to indicate situations in which words fail. The singer here, again Patrice Michaels, is simply amazing. Her purity of utterance, her superb diction and, above all, her affinity for Altman’s chosen mode of expression all demand the highest respect. This is gripping, hypnotic stuff that vies with the Antarctic Songs as the jewel of this disc.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

South of New Jersey by Laurie Altman
Performer:  Caleb Burhans (Viola), Vesselin Gellev (Violin), Zach Brock (Violin),
Elizabeth Thompson (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Homage a Stravinsky by Laurie Altman
Performer:  Scott Lee (Double Bass), Tomasz Rzeczycki (Cello), James Day (Guitar),
Flora Newberry (Trumpet), Kenneth Ellison (Clarinet), Tom Buckelew (Saxophone),
Andrew Rathbun (Saxophone), Randall Bauer (Piano)
Conductor:  Ruth Ochs
Period: 20th Century 
Calle de La Amargura by Laurie Altman
Performer:  Patrice Michaels (Soprano), Helen Richman (Flute), Michael Fennely (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Theme, Variations and Finale for 2 Pianos by Laurie Altman
Performer:  Phyllis Lehrer (Piano), Ena Barton (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985 
Length: 10 Minutes 31 Secs. 
Antarctic Songs (3) by Laurie Altman
Performer:  Elem Eley (Baritone), Laurie Altman (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
On Course by Laurie Altman
Performer:  Jason Treuting (Vibraphone), Alistair MacRae (Cello), Douglas Perkins (Maracas),
Yevgeny Faniuk (Flute), Gilad Harel (Clarinet), Steven Beck (Piano),
Joseph Treuting (Vibraphone), Alexandra Sopp (Flute), Jesse Mills (Violin)
Conductor:  Carl Bettendorf
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2006 
Length: 5 Minutes 43 Secs. 
Come Dance With Me by Laurie Altman
Performer:  Elizabeth Thompson (Cello), Zach Brock (Violin), Vesselin Gellev (Violin),
Caleb Burhans (Viola), Randall Bauer (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2005 
Length: 7 Minutes 2 Secs. 
States of Waiting by Laurie Altman
Performer:  Patrice Michaels (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989 
Length: 9 Minutes 58 Secs. 

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