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Playing The Edge - Music For Violin And Percussion

Daugherty / Arizona Percussion Ensemble / Cook
Release Date: 08/10/2010 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1199   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Michael DaughertyLou HarrisonCraig WalshKevin Puts
Performer:  Mark Rush
Conductor:  Norman Weinberg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arizona Percussion Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

PLAYING THE EDGE Mark Rush (vn); Arizona Perc Ens; Norman Weinberg (perc); Jerry Kirkbride (cl) ALBANY TROY 1199 (61:32)

DAUGHERTY Lex. HARRISON Concerto for Violin and Percussion. WALSH Pointing Out Your Ruse. PUTS And Legions Will Rise

First, I should admit Read more to being a pushover for percussion. I’ve always loved all those funky sounds arising from wood, metal, found items, and synthesizers, not to mention piano and marimba. And violin is a perfect foil for the booms and tinkles of timpani and triangles. In the new CD Playing the Edge , all of the performers are virtuosic as well, not the least of which is violinist Mark Rush. He gets quite a workout from four extraordinary composers.

Michael Daugherty’s piece, Lex (1991–93), is scored for electric violin, percussion, and electric bass, and owes its title to Superman’s foil, Lex Luthor. It’s spoofy, goofy fun. Lex begins with the sounds of three referee whistles placed across the performance stage, as if the various instruments are on their starting blocks ready to jump over hurdles. The music is Bernard Hermann meets Looney Tunes. A maniacal violin triplet seems to be running away from (or toward) various percussion instruments, whose crazy arpeggios and symbol crashes provide a slapstick effect. The clamor subsides temporarily when some mystery music with a Middle Eastern flavor arrives as if from nowhere.

The piece appears improvisational, but everything makes sense and the structure is tight. Next come primal rhythms from which the violin emerges like a girl running away from Godzilla in high heels (the girl, not Godzilla). It’s all tongue in cheek, mock serious, and mock dramatic, and it happily makes fun of itself, especially when a sort of belly dance theme emerges amazingly and logically from the preceding harmonic progression. Then the timpani announces the coda with more crashing of cymbals (and symbols) and a return of the original theme.

How many 10-minute pieces hold your interest? This one does from the first note to the last. I’ve played it many times and I find new things in it every time. There are enough musical allusions (not to mention illusions) to keep you busy into the wee hours.

Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Violin and Percussion (1940–59) could be the grandfather of Lex . According to the composer, the piece is inspired by Berg’s Violin Concerto and such diverse entities as Indian and Sinitic folk music of Africa. Harrison’s work is not as user-friendly as Daugherty’s, but it contains the DNA of much of what we’ve come to know as chromatic music. The Allegro maestoso/Allegro vivace introduces a jaunty theme with syncopations—you can hear what may have inspired Daugherty. But Harrison’s is a serious piece, where Daugherty’s is hilarious.

Pointing Out Your Ruse is Craig Walsh’s contribution to the CD. The piece pits the violin against marimba, vibraphone, bongos, tom-toms, crasher, break drums, cymbal, bass drum, and tam-tam. Beginning with neat raindrop-like sounds, the piece travels into a very contemplative place followed by an urgent, furious motif with plenty for the violin to do (or survive). This piece is more like the Harrison than the Daugherty.

Finally, there is Kevin Puts’s And Legions Will Rise, which opens with a serene clarinet passage. The violin, marimba, and clarinet form an interesting sound together. There follows an Irish fiddler motif followed by teasingly brittle moments, like flowers growing in time lapse. A beautiful marimba-and-violin passage escorts us to a lovely end. The composer notes that the piece is about the ability in all of us during trying times to harness our own personal power. I find that an interesting notion and, though I don’t like to be programmed, I do find the composer’s concept helpful in better understanding the profundity of the piece.

All four composers take a different approach to violin and percussion ensembles. From funny to profound, arcane to mundane, this CD explores possibilities and delivers on entertainment.

FANFARE: David Wolman
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Works on This Recording

Metropolis Symphony: 1st movement, Lex by Michael Daugherty
Performer:  Mark Rush (Electric Violin)
Conductor:  Norman Weinberg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arizona Percussion Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1988-1993; USA 
Concerto for Violin with Percussion Orchestra by Lou Harrison
Performer:  Mark Rush (Violin)
Conductor:  Norman Weinberg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arizona Percussion Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1959; USA 
Pointing Out Your Ruse by Craig Walsh
Performer:  Mark Rush (Violin)
Conductor:  Norman Weinberg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arizona Percussion Ensemble
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
And Legions Will Rise by Kevin Puts
Performer:  Mark Rush (Violin)
Conductor:  Norman Weinberg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arizona Percussion Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001; USA 

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