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Waggoner: Terror And Memory / Stinson, Morkoski, Corigliano Quartet, Open End Ensemble

Waggoner / Corigliano Quartet / Stinson / Morkoski
Release Date: 11/08/2011 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1307   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Andrew Waggoner
Performer:  Caroline StinsonMolly Morkoski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Open End EnsembleCorigliano String QuartetFlexible Music Ensemble,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

WAGGONER Improvisations. 1 String Quartet: No. 3 2. Exorcist 3. Livre. 4 Inventory of Terrors 1. One Kindness 5 1 Open End Ens; 2 Corigliano Qrt; 3 Read more class="ARIAL12">Flexible Music Ens; 4 Caroline Stinson (vc); 4 Molly Morkoski (pn); 5 Nordlys Ens ALBANY 1307 (68:57)

In trying times like these, when the latest fighting words in our country’s never-ending political theater are pledges to cut off funding for institutions that are supportive of the arts (that’ll get our economy going again!), it is reassuring to see that Albany Records is continuing its courageous mission of documenting the remarkable developments that are unfolding in American contemporary music. Composer Andrew Waggoner, who was born in 1960 and is the composer-in-residence at the Setnor School of Music of Syracuse University, is the latest subject of this label’s attention. There can be no doubt that Albany Records made the wisest of choices in tying its fortunes to Waggoner, for his music has everything we have come to expect from the greatest of contemporary composers—confidence, originality, expressivity, and above all, palpable meaning.

It is hard to describe Waggoner’s music. Stylistically, one hears hints of, among others, Ives’s large-scale vision, Janá?ek’s volatile emotional content, Bartók’s purity and rigor, Berg’s intensity, Messiaen’s mysticism, and Shostakovich’s fascination with great existential questions. The net result, however, strikes me as highly original and compelling, as attested by the seven works featured on this recording, which Waggoner aptly titles Terror and Memory . The works that open and close the disc are improvisations for string quartet—the first is sarcastic and grotesque; the second, in which the ensemble seems unsuccessfully to search for tonality (and perhaps redemption), is haunting and moving. It reminds me of Shostakovich’s last string quartet. The second featured piece is the Third String Quartet, a two-movement Bartókian work. Despite being born in New Orleans, Waggoner manages to sound echt Hungarian, and even though the extended second movement is pensive and at times quite somber, overall this is probably the most extroverted work on the disc. Next up is Exorcist , a 12-minute work for a mixed ensemble in which the saxophone takes a leading role. Waggoner describes this work as “driven by a very personal desire to understand the nature of evil, its source, and its amplification.” Exorcist delivers on that promise: It is sarcastic, unrelenting, and nightmarish, although oddly detached; at all times it feels like a surrealist nightmare rather than reality. Next up is Livre, a work for cello and piano inspired by Waggoner’s wife, cellist Caroline Stinson. Livre strikes me as a kindred spirit with Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata—it is luminous and gentle, and the composer’s affection for Stinson is obvious. The piece that follows next, which is titled Inventory of Terrors and was apparently inspired by Waggoner’s “desire to make sense of some very dark history, both personal and collective,” could not be more different. Here again we feel Waggoner plunging into an obsessive, tortured world, but unlike in Exorcist , the tragedy that unfolds in this arresting score seems both real and extremely personal. That leaves One Kindness , a work inspired by a story Waggoner heard on early-morning public radio: “A woman, suffering the dual heartbreak of the loss of her brother to AIDS, and the potential banishment of his memory due to her fears of shame and embarrassment, wanders into a shop in search of a sympathy card for her brother’s partner, whispers to one of the clerks of her brother’s death, and immediately receives from him an embrace that carries with it the total acceptance both of her grief and, by extension, the lost brother she mourns. This one act of compassion on the part of a total stranger transforms her, giving her the space and the strength to acknowledge openly her pain, and to reclaim her memory of the brother she loved.” Waggoner’s transfixing setting of this moving story pretty much sums up what this composer’s music is all about and why I believe that his music will withstand the test of time.

The performances, by three ensembles that specialize in contemporary music—including the Open End, a quintet in which Waggoner himself plays violin—are stunning. These are difficult scores, both technically demanding and emotionally taxing, but the musicians rise to the occasion, delivering impassioned and towering performances. Special praise goes to cellist Caroline Stinson, whose beautiful instrument invariably glows like the voice of hope in the ocean of despair. The quality of the recorded sound is excellent.

Hats off for Andrew Waggoner, a most remarkable composer, the outstanding musicians behind this recording, and Albany Records for this invaluable release.

FANFARE: Radu A. Lelutiu
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Works on This Recording

Improvisation by Andrew Waggoner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Open End Ensemble
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Quartet for Strings no 3 by Andrew Waggoner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Corigliano String Quartet
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Exorcist by Andrew Waggoner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Flexible Music Ensemble
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Livre by Andrew Waggoner
Performer:  Caroline Stinson (Cello), Molly Morkoski (Piano)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Inventory of Terrors by Andrew Waggoner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Open End Ensemble
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
One Kindness by Andrew Waggoner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Nordlys
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 

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