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Hartke: The Horse With The Lavender Eye

Release Date: 02/24/2009 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10513   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Stephen HartkeHenrique Oswald
Performer:  Ellen JewetteRichard FariaXak BjerkenPeter Rejto,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Los Angeles Piano Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HARTKE The Horse with the Lavender Eye. 1 Post-Modern Homages: Sonatina-Fantasia; Gymnopédie No. 4; Template; Sonatina DCXL. Piano Sonata. The King of the Sun. 2 OSWALD Estudo-Scherzo Xak Bjerken (pn); Richard Faria (cl); 1 Ellen Jewett (vn); 1 Read more class="ARIAL12"> Los Angeles Pn Qrt 2 CHANDOS 10513 (64:08)

Stephen Hartke (b. 1952) thinks nothing of juxtaposing a variety of styles as diverse as plainchant and bebop. That the works are as effective and convincing as they are acts as testament to the compositional virtuosity that makes up his music. Pianist Xak Bjerken, who also writes the booklet notes for the present release, suggests this magpie activity is due to the composer’s Manhattan roots, where one can hear a “crazy mix” of music, coupled with Hartke’s activities as child chorister. Hartke is proud of actively enjoying the act of composition, and this exuberance comes across in the very way he writes.

Multiple inspirations inform the genesis of the surrealist The Horse with the Lavender Eye (1997, subtitled “Episodes for violin, clarinet and piano”). Among these inspirations is a play by Carlo Goldoni, Japanese court music, the cartoons of Robert Crumb, the novels of Machado de Assis, and last (but surely not least), Looney Tunes . Japanese court ceremony informs the feel of the first movement (wherein all three instruments are to be played with the left-hand alone); Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters describes the conflicting roles the players are called upon to play in the second; the third, “Waltzing at the Abyss,” is from de Assis’s Dom Cosmurro , and here Hartke takes the writer’s conceit of wheeling the story about and transfers it into a musical domain; the finale is comic-book based. The performance here is of the very highest standard. The clarinetist, Richard Faria, a professor at New York’s Ithaca College, stands out in his supreme command of his instrument, his clear identification with the projection of disjunct lines (first movement), and his sheer control (the antics of “The Servant with Two Masters”). Ellen Jewett plays a bluesy violin, and all concerned exhibit the necessary schizophrenic streak required to negotiate Hartke’s instantaneous mood shifts. “Waltzing at the abyss” reveals a few moments of relative calm before the finale (“Cancel my Rumba Lesson,” marked “Two Left Feet”) seems to depict the frenzied cry of a person in rumba-based turmoil.

Each of the pieces that make up Post-Modern Homages (1984–92) was composed for a friend of the composer’s; each transforms a preexisting piece of music with deliberately pared-down means. The “Sonatina-Fantasia” was written in 1987 for George Rochberg (1918–2005), one of Hartke’s teachers, and is freely based on Rochberg’s First String Quartet. “Gymnopédie No. 4” of 1984 is, of course, an homage to Satie, and is a gentle study in seventh chords most affectingly played by Bjerken, while “Template,” written the following year, is another homage, this time for the Brazilian composer Henrique Oswald, and is based on Oswald’s Estudo-Scherzo (which we hear in this recording immediately after Hartke’s take on it). Hartke’s piece makes much play of a bell-like gesture against scurrying figures (the derivation of the latter becomes obvious on hearing Oswald’s delicious, but frustratingly brief, 1902 original). Finally, the “Sonatina DCXL,” marked “Boppin’ along,” written for David Crockett (a colleague at the University of Southern California, where Hartke is distinguished professor of composition at the Thornton School of Music), a movement that exudes huge amounts of fun while making play with musical cryptograms.

There is an alternate version of the Piano Sonata (1998), played by Vicki Ray on CRI 830 and positively reviewed by Robert Kirzinger in Fanfare 23:5. The granite chords of the opening Prelude (marked Massive, and balanced by the finale’s Pensive ) are superbly rendered here on Chandos, both in Bjerken’s steely attack and in the superb recording (the venue for the entire disc was Purchase College, New York). Contrasts here in the first movement are dynamic rather than stylistic; it is back to the stylistic virtuoso for the central, rapid Scherzo (“Epicycles, Tap-dancing, and a Soft-shoe”), wherein the dancing of Gene Kelly is seen as an influence. I echo Robert Kirzinger’s identification of the shadow of Conlon Nancarrow here. Highly diffuse, this is music that seems to be on the cusp of being grasped before it slips away. It speaks of far more secrets than it reveals.

One of Hartke’s most frequently performed pieces is The King of the Sun (1988, for the present performers). Here, Mirò (a painting itself based on Jan Steen), a mediaeval canon ( Le ray du soleyl ), and estampie are all influences. It is the Mirò that is the principal generator of invention, though, as well as being specifically invoked in the second movement. The painting ( Dutch Interior, 1928, part of the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art) is, in the composer’s description, “both whimsical and serious,” and Hartke transcribes this maxim to the musical surface well throughout the entire piece. Personally, I find the third movement, “Dancer listening to the organ in a Gothic cathedral,” the most effective in its depth of utterance. There is much going on here in terms of distorted/broken-off canons, compression of melodic lines into chordal sequences, and more.

Hartke was a fellow of the American Academy in Rome (1992), and his piano quartet Beyond Words (based on Tallis) can be heard on a four-disc box set of music by fellows of that institution on Bridge 9271.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

The Horse with the Lavender Eye by Stephen Hartke
Performer:  Ellen Jewette (Violin), Richard Faria (Clarinet), Xak Bjerken (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997 
Post-modern Homages: Sonatina-Fantasia by Stephen Hartke
Performer:  Xak Bjerken (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1987 
Post-modern Homages: Gymnopédie no 4 by Stephen Hartke
Performer:  Xak Bjerken (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1984 
Post-modern Homages: Template by Stephen Hartke
Performer:  Xak Bjerken (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985 
Estudo-Scherzo for Piano by Henrique Oswald
Performer:  Xak Bjerken (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1902 
Post-modern Homages: Sonatina DCXL by Stephen Hartke
Performer:  Xak Bjerken (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991 
Sonata for Piano by Stephen Hartke
Performer:  Xak Bjerken (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1968; USA 
King of the Sun by Stephen Hartke
Performer:  Peter Rejto (Cello), Michi Wiancko (Violin), Katherine Murdock (Viola),
Xak Bjerken (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Los Angeles Piano Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1988; New Zealand 

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