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Peter Garland: Waves Breaking On Rocks

Release Date: 10/11/2011 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80716   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Peter Garland
Performer:  Aki TakahashiAri StreisfeldJohn Duykers
Conductor:  John Kennedy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Santa Fe New Music
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GARLAND Waves Breaking on Rocks. 1 Roque Dalton Songs 2 1 Aki Takahashi (pn); 1 Ari Streisfeld (vn); 2 John Duykers (ten); 2 John Kennedy, cond; 2 Santa Fe New Music NEW WORLD 80716 (61:09 Read more Text and Translation)

This is my first exposure to the music of Peter Garland (b.1952), and I daresay it will be an introduction for many Fanfare readers as well. A pupil of Harold Budd and James Tenney, two other composers whose names are unknown to me, Garland has created a sort of music I refer to as “spaced tonic.” It is tonal and accessible, but by putting numerous rests into his music he truly creates “space” as each piece progresses.

Waves Breaking on Rocks, subtitled “Elegy for All of Us,” is a suite of eight elegies commissioned by pianist Aki Takahashi. Each movement represents lost friends or personal responses, so the notes say, “to the cycles of life and the recurrence of the seasons.” The accompanying booklet, fortuitously, provides one page of score from the first movement, “The White Place,” and the sixth movement, which begins with “Waves Breaking on Rocks 2.” (I should point out that the eight elegies are divided into only six movements, the fourth and sixth of these combining two pieces each.) The tempo indications are indeed slow and the space is most certainly written into the score. The overall effect is very Satie-like but in an American elegy/folk music vein. (For a few bars, the rhythm resembles that of early rock and roll, but slowed down considerably.) The overriding effect is extraordinarily peaceful. One does not so much listen actively to this music as simply absorb it, ride its whole notes to moments of soft yet jaunty dotted eighths and back again. I’m sure this sounds very simplistic, almost dull, to the reader, but you must believe me that the inner peace this music creates is truly extraordinary. The fifth movement, for instance, titled “Sierra Madre,” sounds for all the world like an old Protestant hymn tune, yet it is a completely original melody that just happens to be in the form of a hymn. It is also in this movement only that Takahashi is joined by violinist Ari Streisfeld, which oddly enough only emphasizes the hymn connection.

The second piece on this CD, The Roque Dalton Songs, are five songs based on a Salvadoran poet executed in that country’s civil war. Dalton’s poems, the English texts of which appear in the booklet, are not easy reads. They are the poetry of defiance to a corrupt political system that props up an equally corrupt monetary and social system (does this sound familiar to anyone besides me?). They are poems of the firm resolve of the spirit to come out at last and defy the overlords of the system, regardless of the price one has to pay, poems that celebrate the beauty and wonder of life while writing condemnations of the government on walls, of having one’s body beaten and broken before the firing squad finishes him off. Needless to say, this music is radically different from Waves; it is music supported by pounding percussion, music in which violins play repeated Minimalist figures while the solo tenor intones the poems in the foreground. John Duykers has an odd voice, very dark of timbre and muffled in tone, but his diction is relatively clear, which is the most important thing here. Possibly because the texts of the poems are varied in mood and content, I expected more varied music to accompany them, therefore I was somewhat let down by the sameness of the music (which is based on Pueblo Indian dances) as it moves from poem to poem. Other listeners, however, may like them much more than I. The percussion does let up in the third song, “Como la Siemreviva,” but unfortunately the absence of percussion reveals just how tight and muffled Duykers’s voice is. (Sometimes I wonder if contemporary composers who are not big names are always stuck with singers like this.)

I can wholeheartedly recommend Waves Breaking on Rocks as one of the finest and most beautifully serene pieces I’ve heard in years. You may enjoy The Roque Dalton Songs better than I did. The sound quality of the CD is extraordinary, clear and forward yet in a very natural-sounding space.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Waves Breaking on Rocks by Peter Garland
Performer:  Aki Takahashi (Piano), Ari Streisfeld (Violin)
Written: 2003 
The Roque Dalton Songs by Peter Garland
Performer:  John Duykers (Tenor)
Conductor:  John Kennedy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Santa Fe New Music

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