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Starry Night Project - Harris, Paulus, Larsen, List / Montage Music Society

Release Date: 07/14/2009 
Label:  Msr   Catalog #: 1264   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Matthew HarrisStephen PaulusLibby LarsenAndrew List
Performer:  Sarita UranovskyMarc MoskovitzDebra AyersBruce Creditor,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Montage Music Society
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

STARRY NIGHT PROJECT Montage Music Society MSR 1264 (62:44)

HARRIS Starry Night. PAULUS Art Suite. LARSEN Black Birds, Red Hills. LIST Noa Noa: A Gaugin Tableau

This is a stylish concept album. All the pieces are inspired by specific paintings. Read more style="font-style:italic">Starry Night (1984), by Matthew Harris (b. 1956), provides the album’s title, and is a suite of seven pieces for piano trio based on paintings by Van Gogh (obviously), Rousseau, Picasso, Ensor, Matisse, Dali, and Mondrian. Harris has a real melodic gift and great wit. His take on Matisse’s “The Piano Lesson” is that it’s the lesson from hell; frantic arpeggios, metronomes, wrong notes stopping things cold. His “Broadway Boogie Woogie” (after Mondrian) is sneaky and funny. He also has a lyric gift, as in the way the Van Gogh movement opens up “cosmically” near the end, and the genuinely dark mystery that gets under your skin in James Ensor’s “Masks Confronting Death.” Harris, taking something of a cue, perhaps, from the historical window of his source paintings, tends to use a harmonic language that I’d call French Chromatic. I was reminded of both Fauré and the Stravinsky of Firebird.

Stephen Paulus (b. 1949), in his 1999 Art Suite for cello and piano, leans much more towards Debussy as a model. Indeed, at times I thought I was hearing a second Debussy cello sonata, except that there’s no obvious plagiarism involved, just a reanimation of the spirit. The work is a free reworking of a song cycle (the original song texts are given in the booklet), and it does have a free-flowing lyricism that suggests that earlier incarnation.

Libby Larsen (b. 1950) presents a trio for clarinet, viola, and piano, Black Birds, Red Hills (1996), which is based on paintings of Georgia O’Keefe (though one truly strange detail is that the title clearly says six paintings, and there are only five movements). I like this composer’s music very much, but this work seems a little faceless to me—though perhaps that may be a mark of originality, in that I didn’t detect as much of antecedent voices and practices as I did in the other works.

Andrew List (b. 1956) was commissioned by Montage to write his Noa Noa: A Gauguin Tableau (2008) for a quintet of clarinet, string trio, and piano. This is a three-movement work depicting different aspects of Gauguin’s monumental eponymous painting. I found the first two movements not as compelling as I’d like, but the final one (which is longer than the other two combined) projects a deep serenity and beauty. Again, there’s a ghost in the score, this time Ravel, in particular the composer of such works as the Duo, Piano Trio, and Chansons madécasses (again not surprising, considering the tropical associations of both those texts and the painting).

The Montage Music Society is a collective of five musicians: Sarita Uranovsky, violin; Marc Moskovitz, cello; Stephen Dyball, viola; Bruce Creditor, clarinet; and Debra Ayers, piano. Their playing is elegant and scrupulous throughout, and they make these newer pieces sound like the repertoire I suspect they’d like them to be. The whole project, in its multidisciplinary approach, is very well conceived and presented: many of the paintings are included in full color reproductions in the booklet. I admit that while I find all the music superbly crafted and full of genuine expressive intent, much of it sounds “second-hand” to me, perhaps both because the languages used are already quite familiar and because all the pieces are playing off another pre-existent source (but of course that’s the point). I think for my money the best and most personal balance between all these constraints is achieved by Harris. But all the music is good enough that different listeners will, I suspect, have different favorites.

This is recommended for lovers of new chamber music who don’t necessarily prefer the avant-garde, and who like some programmatic spice.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Starry night by Matthew Harris
Performer:  Sarita Uranovsky (Violin), Marc Moskovitz (Cello), Debra Ayers (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Montage Music Society
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 21 Minutes 24 Secs. 
Art Suite by Stephen Paulus
Performer:  Marc Moskovitz (Cello), Debra Ayers (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Montage Music Society
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 13 Minutes 44 Secs. 
Black Birds, Red Hills by Libby Larsen
Performer:  Bruce Creditor (Clarinet), Stephen Dyball (Viola), Debra Ayers (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Montage Music Society
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989; USA 
Length: 9 Minutes 7 Secs. 
Noa noa by Andrew List
Performer:  Sarita Uranovsky (Violin), Bruce Creditor (Clarinet), Debra Ayers (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Montage Music Society
Length: 15 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Notes: Editor: Tom Carr.
Liner Note Author: Andrew List. 

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