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The Music Of Fred Lerdahl / Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Et Al

Release Date: 05/30/2006 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9191   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Fred Lerdahl
Conductor:  Jeffrey Milarsky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Columbia SinfoniettaAntaresLa Fenice,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

LERDAHL Time after Time. 1 Marches . 2 Oboe Quartet. 3 Waves 4 Jeffrey Milarsky, cond; 1 Columbia Sinfonietta; 1 Antares; 2 La Fenice; 3 Read more Orpheus CO 4 BRIDGE 9191 (62:04)

For some years, a favorite piece of mine has been Fred Lerdahl’s Waves . It first appeared on a Deutsche Grammophon CD in the early 1990s, coupled with Bolcom’s enjoyable and typically quirky Orfée-Sérénade , along with music by Druckman and Michael Gandolfi. The New York-based Orpheus Chamber Orchestra still concertizes regularly, but for about 10 years they also boasted a well-deserved contract with DG, recording practically the entire chamber orchestra repertoire in performances which topped critics’ polls at the time and in most cases are yet to be surpassed. The Lerdahl and Co. disc was a reward for all this superior work, I suppose, allowing Orpheus to show off pieces they had commissioned (or, in the case of Waves , co-commissioned). The same glistening performance is now re-released on the Bridge label, coupled with new recordings of Lerdahl’s more recent chamber music.

Waves is an orchestral scherzo. It conjures up (rather than depicts) the motion and the sense of waves, not merely of the oceanic variety but also those found on graphs: sound waves, heartbeats, and so on. It begins with a surge of activity and never lets up in its cascading scales and rapid figuration. Unlike Debussy’s La mer , whose deep-sea swells it recalls only fleetingly, it has no moments of repose. The activity is not relentless, simply constant: the work is light on its feet, colorfully scored, and a brilliant showpiece for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, who play it with dazzling precision and subtlety. Their recording is a collector’s item and well worth reissuing, especially in the company of other works by Lerdahl, whose music has not been widely available. (There were some LPs of piano and chamber music on the CRI and Laurel labels and a 1991 CRI CD devoted to the composer, but little else, despite the fact that Lerdahl served on the board of trustees of CRI from 1994 to 2003.)

Marches reveals the same nimble imagination at work. Scored for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, it presents a kind of march overview. Opening with a figure almost straight out of Mahler—I say “almost” because the tonality has been skewed a little towards the other end of the century—the work goes on to juxtapose marching music of all kinds: military, funereal, Schubertian, loud, and light. A swift staccato clarinet passage, chased by an equally fleet-footed piano, constitutes a mini-scherzo section (at 7:30, the exact half-way mark). Here it seems as if one of those decorative woodwind figures from a Souza march has been snatched up and set free to scamper around wildly. Half-quotations and naggingly familiar phrases turn up regularly throughout and pass by in a flash. The composer calls the piece a “phantasmagoria of over-laid march ideas,” which pretty well sums it up. As in Waves , the instrumental parts demand great proficiency, and they certainly get it in this performance by the young chamber group Antares.

Flute and percussion are added for the two-movement work Time after Time (2000). Again, this work begins with a scurrying first movement, trills a notable feature of the texture, but in the longer second movement the composer sets a steady pulse—not unlike the ticking of a clock in its implacable onward progress. Around this pulse, various solo instruments and combinations converse. Clanging tubular bells dominate a couple of dramatic climaxes and then are heard softly tolling a (death?) knell when the clock finally stops: a perfectly timed conclusion. The variety of colors Lerdahl draws from his sextet is very wide and the Columbia Sinfonietta relishes every detail in this close, vivid recording.

From 2002, the Oboe Quartet is the most recent work on the disc. While all the fingerprints of Lerdahl’s style are still present—the playfulness, the interest in color and texture, the sheer speed—his musical argument here seems more urgent. Arching lines for the oboe (sometimes doubled by the violin) and a general density of scoring bring out the composer’s expressionist side. Certainly, this is music purely about music: the quartet does not share the other works’ pictorial associations—waves, clocks, and so on.

Lerdahl is remarkably fortunate in his performances. La Fenice, the group who plays the Oboe Quartet, is as accomplished as the others on this disc. Special mention should be made of oboist Peggy Pearson, whose artistry was a catalyst for the work’s composition. (Lerdahl himself was an oboist in his student days.)

Sound is up-front in the newer recordings, and the Orpheus performance sounds brighter than before. (Could be it’s simply reproduced at a higher level to match the rest of the CD.) Performances, as I have indicated, are outstanding. The music is fun, without being in the least bit trite; nor, despite its polished, brilliant surface, is it superficial. There’s too much brainwork going on for that. I’m delighted to have explored more of Fred Lerdahl’s output and my only problem now will be rearranging my Want List for the next issue.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Time After Time by Fred Lerdahl
Conductor:  Jeffrey Milarsky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Columbia Sinfonietta
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2000; USA 
Marches by Fred Lerdahl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antares
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1992; USA 
Quartet for Oboe and Strings by Fred Lerdahl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Fenice
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2002; USA 
Waves by Fred Lerdahl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1988; USA 

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