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Bauer: Ritual Fragments, Etc / Schadeberg, Friedland, Et Al

Release Date: 04/03/2007 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 921   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ross Bauer
Performer:  Peggy FriedlandChristine SchadebergChristopher OldfatherJoshua Gordon,   ... 
Conductor:  Ross BauerJeffrey MilarskyYu-Hui Chang
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New York New Music EnsembleTriple Helix TrioEmpyrean Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BAUER Eskimo Songs. 1 Stone Soup. 2 Motion. 3 Ritual Fragments. 4 Tributaries 5 Ross Bauer, cond; 1 Jeffrey Milarsky, cond; 2 Yu-hui Chang, cond; 4 Christine Read more Schadeberg (sop); 1 Peggy Friedland (fl); 1 Joshua Gordon (cl); 1 Christopher Oldfather (pn); 1 Susan Narucki (sop); 4 New York New Music Ens; 2,5 Triple Helix Trio; 3 Empyrean Ens 4 ALBANY TROY 921 (62:03)

Ross Bauer (b. 1951) has a reputation as a conductor of new music. A founding member of Boston’s Griffin Music Ensemble, he now teaches composition at the University of California (Davis), where he also set up the Empyrean Ensemble, heard on this recording. As a composer, his teachers included Arthur Berger and Luciano Berio. This compilation of chamber works, recorded in 1996 ( Stone Soup ), 2000 ( Motion and Tributaries ), and 2001 ( Eskimo Songs and Ritual Fragments ), was made possible by a music award from the Academy of Arts and Letters.

Judging from these works, all composed during the 1990s, Bauer continues to produce the kind of music everyone assumed would be the way of the future 40 years ago: that is, serial music following in the footsteps of Schoenberg and Webern—and to some extent, late Stravinsky. He shares their pointillist precision and economy—strengths of the serial style—but also certain drawbacks that led to that school’s downfall, namely a restricted ability to evoke a specific mood, and, in word-setting, a melismatic vocal line far enough removed from the cadences of natural speech as to render much of the text incomprehensible. (Serial settings are not alone in that, of course.) Translating the above generalities into a personal reaction, I find the music on this disc easy to admire but difficult to love; I also prefer the purely instrumental compositions to the vocal settings.

Stone Soup , an instrumental quintet, is one of the most often played of Bauer’s works. It exhibits an identifiable trait of the composer, namely his simultaneous juxtaposition of slow and fast music within the contrapuntal texture. Particularly active throughout is the lower end of the piano, etching out a vigorous, jagged line whose purpose is to anchor the highly chromatic harmony. A distinctive coloring is added by bass clarinet. (The lineup is that of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. ) Bauer’s ear for color is certainly one of his strong suits, even more so in Tributaries (1992), a single-movement trio for cello, piano, and percussion. Each of these three protagonists gets a turn in the spotlight; the percussionist performs a dazzling marimba solo. In the two song cycles, the composer sets native texts: Eskimo, in the case of Eskimo Songs (obviously) and Native American in the substantial Ritual Fragments . The latter is the more evocative setting, due to the imaginative use of percussion in the accompanying ensemble. Neither cycle displays any kind of faux-primitivism, musically speaking, which is a plus.

Without going into detail, let me give blanket praise to the performers (the majority of whom premiered these pieces). They are proficient without exception: the days of enthusiastic second-raters dominating the contemporary music scene are long gone. Sopranos Schadeberg and Narucki must be singled out for the expression and dependable pitch they bring to Bauer’s vocal writing. Despite the differing recording dates and locations, recorded sound is very good across the board.

David Rakowski’s helpful booklet notes include the following statement: “[Bauer’s] work rewards repeated listening . . . and continues to offer deeper rewards as it becomes more familiar. [It] adds up to a beautiful and expressive music that gets the most out of its materials.” I have not yet had time to test this theory, but I must reiterate: there is plenty of contemporary music around deliberately designed to delight on first hearing, and thereby to encourage repeated listening. I would agree with Rakowski’s praise of Bauer’s output, with the added proviso that all this good work still seems to take place within a stylistic straitjacket. You may not think so. In any case, no one can deny that this is music of substance.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Eskimo Songs by Ross Bauer
Performer:  Peggy Friedland (Flute), Christine Schadeberg (Soprano), Christopher Oldfather (Piano),
Joshua Gordon (Clarinet)
Conductor:  Ross Bauer
Period: 20th Century 
Notes: Composition written: 1992 - 1996. 
Stone Soup by Ross Bauer
Performer:  Jayn Rosenfeld (Flute), James Winn (Piano), Jean Kopperud (Clarinet),
Linda Quan (Violin), Chris Finckel (Cello)
Conductor:  Jeffrey Milarsky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New York New Music Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995 
Motion by Ross Bauer
Performer:  Bayla Keyes (Violin), Rhonda Rider (Cello), Lois Shapiro (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Triple Helix Trio
Period: 20th Century 
Ritual Fragments by Ross Bauer
Performer:  Susan Narucki (Soprano)
Conductor:  Yu-Hui Chang
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Empyrean Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995 
Tributaries by Ross Bauer
Performer:  Chris Finckel (Cello), Daniel Druckman (Percussion), Stephen Gosling (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 

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