Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Isle is Full of Noises
Suave Mari Magno
String Quartet No. 2.
Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano
Jeffrey Milarsky, cond; Manhattan Sinfonietta;
Stephen Gosling (pn); Jack Qrt; Patrick Pridemore (hn); Aaron Boyd (vn)
ALBANY TROY1264 (71:49)
At my first and rather superficial hearing I concluded that American composer George Edwards (b.1943) was merely just another practitioner working within the sound world of the Second Viennese School—an approach that, given the prevailing tastes and techniques of so many of our younger composers who strive for diatonic tunefulness, simple harmonic structures, and ethnic color, is currently out of fashion. Subsequent listenings have revealed that he is an extraordinarily fine practitioner who fully comprehends the Second Viennese School’s Wagnerian, and if I be so bold as to add, its Brahmsian roots as well. There is also a Bachian clarity and concision to his contrapuntal textures. Edwards, like Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, is, when all is said and done, a true neoromantic of commanding musical intellect and technical prowess who takes those august masters’ musical concepts to the next level. His is music that posits the ultimate paradox—of being at once of great intellectual rigor, and of surpassing emotional drama and power. This should be of no great moment. After all, that was what Bach and Beethoven, among others, achieved. The samples of Edwards’s music on this disc are distinguished, first and foremost, by their uncompromising directness. There is neither a gratuitous note nor a reliance upon timbre for mere sound’s sake. Everything is in the sharpest of focus making the progress of each of these pieces, be they inspired by literature or not, at once both surprising and inevitable.
Edwards’s musical pedigree is impressive. His undergraduate studies were completed at Oberlin College. He subsequently received an M.F.A. in composition from Princeton University, after which he was accepted as a composition fellow at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood where he won the Koussevitzky Composition Prize. He has since been awarded the Rome Prize Fellowship, the Naumburg Recording Award, a Koussevitzky Music Foundation Award, and residencies at the MacDowell Colony, among other honors. He is currently the MacDowell Professor Emeritus of Music at Columbia University after having served on the theory faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music and a lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Isle is Full of Noises
, completed in 1995, uses Caliban’s words to Stephano from act III, scene 2 of
as its metaphorical point of departure. It is a 13-minute sonic odyssey for chamber orchestra that ends as surprisingly as it begins, but between those two coordinates, presents a fascinating musical picaresque. Our sly rogue here is the composer himself, who takes the listener on a tour of a few of his technical procedures that proves, given his well-practiced musical sleight of hand, utterly engaging and fascinating.
Suave Mari Magno
, composed in 1984 for pianist Alan Feinberg, refers to Lucretius’s dawn of the Christian-era poem
De Rerum Natura
—specifically to the line “It is sweet when seas are high.” The result is a meditative seascape that, despite its modernistic pointillism, evokes to me many of Brahms’s romantic piano works, from his rhapsodies to the rarefied sounds of his op. 118 pieces.
String Quartet No. 2, weighing in at 22 and a half minutes, is the longest essay on this release. Composed in 1982, it is also the earliest piece. Listening to it, I can’t remove Schoenberg’s and Webern’s quartets from my mind. Yes, there is a commonality of language between all three composers, but, as before, Edwards brings it to the next step both in dramatic impact and eloquence, and, along the way, underscores the notion that what those two masters had previously established is indeed ongoing and has yet to reach full fruition.
I won’t bore you with my explications of the last two works other than to say that
(make what you will of the title), composed in 1994 for piano solo, uses jazzoid syncopations that are fitted quite neatly into Edwards’s quite elastic language, and that the Trio for Horn, Violin, and Piano of 1987 can’t fail to evoke Brahms’s op. 40. To Brahms, the combination of horn, violin, and piano presented intractable problems, but it was his love of the natural horn that inspired him to rise to the challenge. Once again Edwards steps in where Brahms left off. His trio becomes Brahms both condensed and rarified, ending, appropriately, on a note of profound longing and resignation.
All of the performers are both technically world-class and inspired. Most importantly, all of these musicians play
. Albany’s sound is excellent, making this one potentially Want List material.
FANFARE: William Zagorski
Works on This Recording
Czeched Swing by George Edwards
Stephen Gosling (Piano)
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