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The University Of Oklahoma Percussion Orchestra


Release Date: 03/25/2003 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 567   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Michael HennaginJoseph BlahaRaymond Helble
Conductor:  Richard C. Gipson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Oklahoma Percussion Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 54 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Night Watch (2000) by Joseph Blaha (b. 1951) was inspired by the premature death of Blaha’s teacher Michael Hennagin and by the eponymous painting by Rembrandt, in which a barely visible drummer inhabits the right side of the canvas. In four sections reflecting the ever-presence of death that plagues even the lightheartedness of youth, Blaha’s music plays with musical equivalents of light and shadow as exhibited in Rembrandt’s art. (The composer wrote a poetic text to silently accompany each of the four movements.) The work is substantial, with a fourth movement that is particularly successful in mixing poetry and showmanship.

The two-part Concertare (2001) by Raymond Helble (b. 1949) deploys six marimbas in its
Read more performing forces. An Adagio section gives way to a concluding Furioso, with the marimbas and ringing bells fashioning a fugal neo-Baroque elegance out of the pounding and knocking brilliance of the final measures.

Duo Chopinesque (1985) is a classic of the repertoire. Its composer, Michael Hennagin (1936–1993), should be lamented for his relatively early passing, especially as he had retired from teaching in 1992 to devote himself to composition. Hennagin has taken the famous melody of Chopin’s op. 28, no. 4, E-Minor prelude and recast it in pieces as source material for a series of variations involving quick cuts, dissolves, and assorted transpositions. Two rows are formed from pitch material based on Chopin’s melody, and the tenor of the music ranges from spooky solemnity to exuberant rascality, the two extremes sometimes occurring simultaneously. By the time the music is concluded, the listener has heard the whole of Chopin’s melody in the manner of quickly opening and closing doors permitting snatches of melodic passages. This is a hugely entertaining piece, and only a person conspicuously repulsed by percussion-ensemble music would fail to be entranced by it.

Finally, Helble returns with his mallet-obsessed Diabolic Variations (1985), “ground-bass variations in the tradition of the Bach Passacaglia in C Minor for organ, the Bach Chaconne in D Minor for solo violin, and, in some respects, the Brahms chaconne variations in the fourth movement of the Fourth Symphony.” That explains the “variations” part of the work’s title, The “diabolic” is not explained, but near the end a fragmented “Dies Irae” passage is heard and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice subtly peaks out from behind a curtain. Though I was hoping for something truly insanely diabolical, which didn’t materialize, the work still made a strong impression on me.

Because these pieces, especially Duo Chopinesque, have a depth of invention to rival the percussion scores by Xenakis, Aperghis. Boucourechliev, Amy, Haubenstock-Ramati, and others that were recorded on Philips’s groundbreaking “Prospective 21º siècle” series of LPs in the early 1970s (oh, those silver covers!), I am highly recommending this disc. And no little amount of credit for the success of this CD is due to the crackerjack performances of the University of Oklahoma Percussion Orchestra.

Stephen Ellis, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1. Duo Chopinesque by Michael Hennagin
Conductor:  Richard C. Gipson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Oklahoma Percussion Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; USA 
2. The Night Watch by Joseph Blaha
Conductor:  Richard C. Gipson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Oklahoma Percussion Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2000; USA 
3. Concertare by Raymond Helble
Conductor:  Richard C. Gipson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Oklahoma Percussion Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001; USA 
4. Diabolic Variations by Raymond Helble
Conductor:  Richard C. Gipson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Oklahoma Percussion Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; USA 

Sound Samples

The Night Watch: I. Death's Gathering
The Night Watch: II. The Conflicted Youth
The Night Watch: III.
The Night Watch: IV. The Unencumbered Youth
Concertare
Duo Chopinesque
Diabolic Variations

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