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Stillness & Change

Aylward / East Coast Contemporary Ensemble
Release Date: 08/09/2011 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1283  
Composer:  John Aylward
Performer:  Chris FinckelCurtis MacomberAndrew RehigBill Kalinkos,   ... 
Conductor:  Matthias Pintscher
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

AYLWARD Stillness and Change. Images of Departure. Songs from The Wild Iris. Reciprocal Accord East Coast Contemporary Ens ALBANY 1283 (58:53 Text and Translation)

So many composers, so little time! Well, here’s one definitely worth making time to hear, and you’ll need more than one traversal through this compact disc to appreciate all of the subtleties and nuances of John Aylward’s music. Yes, it’s complex—tonally, rhythmically, coloristically— Read more style="font-style:italic">and rewarding. This would seem to be the first CD of Aylward’s music reviewed in these pages, but I shall refer the reader interested in biographical details of this composer to the above interview, or to the composer’s website at johnaylward.com.

The opening work, Stillness and Change, is cast in three brief movements, “Moonbeam,” “Stars,” and “Island,” all played without pause. The opening virtuosic flourish in the work immediately grips the listener, and hoists him into the exotic world that Aylward has created. The busy virtuosity of the first movement gives way to an eerie stillness in the second in which time seems suspended. Sotto voce trills in the instrumental ensemble are punctuated with points of light from the clarinet and mallets. In the third movement, the piece returns to the virtuosity of the opening movement, but winds down with one of the most haunting conclusions, replete with whispers and night sounds, of any piece I know. The ending in particular seems not far from the desert environment in which Aylward grew up, and which I have visited on numerous occasions.

Images of Departure is scored for viola and piano, and from its outset barrages the listener with uneven rhythmic figures in gestures of extreme economy. The mournful second movement depicts the impetus—the final days and death of the composer’s uncle—for the creation of the work. Its overarching ascending lines provide optimism even in the face of death. A moto perpetuo full of driving energy that never flags for a moment concludes the work. Performers Mark Holloway and Stephen Gosling capture every nuance of this tremendously challenging work, bringing it off with panache. I hear stylistic influences (perhaps unsurprisingly) of Elliott Carter and, to a lesser extent, Edgard Varèse, and considerable use of the octatonic scale so favored by Stravinsky and the Russian school.

Aylward’s longtime fascination with The Wild Iris of Louise Glück produced this song cycle based on five of the poems out of her 54-poem work. To the composer, this tome represented her answer to the American Transcendentalism of Thoreau and Whitman, and appealed to him as someone raised amid the vast landscapes of the Sonoran Desert. In these five settings, Aylward takes us on a journey among the flowers, their creators, and other natural settings. The accompaniment includes an ensemble of violin, cello, clarinet, and percussion, with mallet instruments predominating. The work creates an overall impression of stillness and peace—even oneness with nature—reaching few dramatic climaxes. Soprano Jo Ellen Miller brings off the cycle very convincingly, with plenty of expression and feeling.

The CD’s closing work, Reciprocal Accord, is a violin-and-cello duet cast in six short movements, played without pause. Its construction with pulse streams related to but slower than the surface tempo was inspired by the composer’s research on Carter’s Fifth String Quartet. Despite its starkly contrasted movements, the work seems to be aligned to a theme-and-variations structure, with a lot of the variation coming in timbre and texture. The blending of the instruments, while maintaining their distinction, achieves a kind of musical metonymy. It is often difficult to believe that there are only two instruments playing.

All of the members of the East Coast Contemporary Ensemble do a masterly job with this demanding music. This is music of fascination and profundity, and I reiterate that one will need to listen to it repeatedly to fully appreciate its manifold beauties. I heartily encourage you to do just that: Acquire this CD and expand your musical horizons in a very rewarding direction.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

Stillness and Change by John Aylward
Performer:  Chris Finckel (Cello), Curtis Macomber (Violin), Andrew Rehig (Flute),
Bill Kalinkos (Clarinet), Stephen Gosling (Piano), Samuel Solomon (Percussion)
Conductor:  Matthias Pintscher
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Images of Departure by John Aylward
Performer:  Mark Holloway (Viola), Stephen Gosling (Piano)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Songs from the Wild Iris by John Aylward
Performer:  Samuel Solomon (Percussion), Chris Finckel (Cello), Curtis Macomber (Violin),
Bill Kalinkos (Clarinet), Jo Ellen Miller (Soprano)
Conductor:  Matthias Pintscher
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Reciprocal Accord by John Aylward
Performer:  Curtis Macomber (Violin), Chris Finckel (Cello)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 

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