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Ezra Sims: Musing And Reminiscence

Sims / Advocat / Norsworthy / Bmop / Rose
Release Date: 05/11/2010 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80709-2   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ezra Sims
Performer:  Eric MoeTed MookChristoph von ErffaMichael Norsworthy,   ... 
Conductor:  Richard PittmanGil Rose
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Musica Viva
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 1 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SIMS Piano Sonatine. 1 Cello Sonata. 1,2 AEDM in mem. 2 If I Told Him. 3 Musing and Reminiscence. 4 Concert Piece II 5 1 Eric Moe (pn); 2 Ted Mook (vc); Read more class="SUPER12">3 Christine Ascher (alt); Christoph von Erffa (vc); 4 Richard Pittman, cond; Boston Music Viva, (live: Boston 11/31/03); 5 Amy Advocat, Michael Norsworthy (cl); Gil Rose, cond; Boston Modern O Project NEW WORLD 80709-2 (60:47 Text and Translation)

Ezra Sims (b.1928) has lived much of his mature creative life in the Boston area, and he’s most closely associated with microtonal composition. Unlike some composers who use “just intonation” (a system that preserves intervals in the form closest to how they actually occur in the overtone series, unlike the “compromised” post-1800 system of equal temperament we all know from the piano), Sims has worked out a highly personal compromise that takes aspects of this practice, but blends them with personal disoveries. His intervals of a nine-tone scale are derived from overtone relations (and hence are of differing distances), but he also uses “chromatic” microintervals to fill the gaps, creating an ultimate 24-note scale.

The result is an interesting blend of the exotic and the abrasive. There can be sections of new-found harmonic beauty, such as the fluid microtonal chorale that opens the second movement of Concert Piece II , and corresponding passages of almost unbearable intensity, as the music gets further and further “stretched” by the intonational strategy, a bit like bending a piece of steel towards the point of rupture (cf. the conclusion of the same movement).

The first two pieces of the program, however, are much earlier and very different from this template. The Sonatine and Sonata (both 1957) are serial, though much more under the influence of neoclassicism than expressionism. The former, for solo piano, is elegant and stresses fluidity and continuity. The latter, for cello and piano, is more spare and pontillistic, and while it sounds a little more like the “standard” serial work of the era, in fact it has a real gravitas and nobility of utterance that moves me. It makes me think a bit in its rhetoric of Carter in his transitional period between tonality and atonality.

ADEM in mem (1988) is a solo cello work in memory of the cellist’s mother, and uses the tradition of translating a name into musical pitches ( sogetto cavato in the Renaissance). This is the first piece on the program to use microtonality, and is exceptionally pithy. Five movements, the longest two minutes. The rhythms tend to be simple and “straight,” allowing the pitches to articulate clearly. The intervals always sound “right” rather than out of tune, which is a tribute both to Sims’s ear and craft, and the precision of Ted Mook’s playing. If I Told Him (1996) is a romp, a setting of Gertrude Stein’s verbal portrait of Picasso. The vocal part is a subtly inflected speech, a kind of minimalist sprechstimme , mirrored by the narrow microtonal range of the accompanying cello’s range. The composite sound and strategy seems perfectly suited to Stein’s text, the best I’ve ever heard outside of Virgil Thomson’s settings. It’s also surprising, in that it ultimately moves into very intense and affecting sung text and vocalise, as though discovering a hidden treasure beneath the blithely ironic surface of the text. Christine Ascher is stunning in her delivery, both in spoken and sung passages.

Musing and Reminiscence (2003) is scored for flute, clarinet, and string trio. It’s elegiac in tone, its lines limpid, its tempo moderato, and its impact subtly cumulative. The 2005 Concert Piece II is probably the most impressive and magisterial work on the program. It has enormous rhythmic drive, and its contrapuntal complexity is exhilarating. It’s impressively performed by not only the soloists but the whole ensemble, who dispatch the intonational intricacies confidently. It makes more and more sense to me on each successive listening, one of the best results a composer can hope for his music’s effect.

Sims had almost no music on CD before this disc, as far as I can tell, so this is a very welcome release. It makes a great argument for his music. I admit that his version of microtonality, strongly rooted in modernist practice, is less attractive than that of such more maverick composers as Partch, Harrison, and Johnston. To my ear, they tend to tease out greater beauty in the old-fashioned sense. But this is still adventurous and “subversive” music, as Julia Werntz’s enthusiastic notes proclaim. An important document for an underrepresented American composer, still at the height of his powers at age 82.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Sonatine for piano by Ezra Sims
Performer:  Eric Moe (Piano)
Written: 1957 
Date of Recording: 06/05/2009 
Venue:  Pelham, New York 
Length: 6 Minutes 20 Secs. 
Sonata for cello & piano by Ezra Sims
Performer:  Ted Mook (Cello), Eric Moe (Piano)
Written: 1957 
Date of Recording: 06/05/2009 
Venue:  Pelham, New York 
Length: 8 Minutes 46 Secs. 
AEDM in mem, for cello by Ezra Sims
Performer:  Ted Mook (Cello)
Written: 1988 
Date of Recording: 06/05/2009 
Venue:  Pelham, New York 
Length: 4 Minutes 44 Secs. 
If I Told Him, for voice & cello by Ezra Sims
Performer:  Christoph von Erffa (Cello)
Written: 1996 
Date of Recording: 06/2003 
Venue:  Darmstadt, Germany 
Length: 12 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Musing and Reminiscence, for ensemble by Ezra Sims
Conductor:  Richard Pittman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Musica Viva
Written: 2003 
Date of Recording: 11/30/2003 
Venue:  Live  Boston, Massachusetts 
Length: 13 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Concert Piece No. 2, for 2 clarinets & orchestra by Ezra Sims
Performer:  Michael Norsworthy (Clarinet), Amy Advocat (Clarinet)
Conductor:  Gil Rose
Written: 2005 
Date of Recording: 03/29/2008 
Venue:  Andover, Massachusetts 
Length: 13 Minutes 8 Secs. 

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