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Ann Southam: Returnings

Southam / Egoyan
Release Date: 01/31/2012 
Label:  Centrediscs   Catalog #: 17211   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ann Southam
Performer:  Eve Egoyan
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 1 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SOUTHAM Returnings. Returnings II: A Meditation. In Retrospect. Qualities of Consonance Eve Egoyan (pn) CENTREDISCS CMCCD 17211 (61:06)

Alex Ross, writing in The New Yorker , may have started an Ann Southam boomlet two years ago when he listed Eve Egoyan’s recording of Southam’s piano work Simple Lines of Enquiry among his 10 Exceptional Read more Recordings of 2009. I know my interest was piqued, and so I purchased a copy. I don’t think I was as rapturous as Ross, but it is good music to chew upon, and I was pleased to make the composer’s acquaintance.

Alert readers will realize that I have reviewed two other discs of Southam’s piano works in these pages, both of them played by Christina Petrowska Quilico, who also has been closely associated with Southam’s music. It is interesting that Petrowska Quilico has gravitated toward Southam’s finger-busting works, while Egoyan seems to be drawn to the more introspective compositions. (Looking at Egoyan’s recorded repertory, I would say that this is a pattern.) In fact, Southam wrote the works on this CD, and Simple Lines of Enquiry , with Egoyan in mind. Returnings and Returnings II , both from 2010, are some of the last works Southam composed, as she died of cancer later that year.

I don’t know if it’s because I may not be a very astute listener, but I did not realize that these two works were “process music,” in a sense, until I read it in the booklet notes. Both are built upon a 12-tone row, which “gradually unfolds between two stable tonal lines (a drone in the bass; chords in the upper voice).” I guess a less specific way to describe this music is that it is slow-moving, quiet, and pointillistic, somewhat in the matter of late Morton Feldman. It has a subtle rocking motion, something between a lullaby and a gondola song, but it would be a strange mother who sang this music to her baby, and an unlikely gondolier who poled along the Venetian canals to either of these Returnings . The music is quietly inquiet, if you will.

In Retrospect , from 2004, seems not to be driven by a process, but it creates much the same mood in the listener. Its contours are even flatter than those of the Returnings works. The music hangs suspended in midair, always moving forward, but never coming closer to any traditional endpoint. Southam toys with dissonance in this work, but the wide separations between the notes (both temporally and in terms of pitch) cause what the booklet note writer aptly calls “musical ambiguities.”

Qualities of Consonance (1998) is the earliest and longest work here. It also is the one that is the most varied in terms of textures and emotional states. In it, Southam’s quiet Minimalism brushes up against brief, dramatic gestures. This work’s relative eventfulness probably makes it the best place to start for those unfamiliar with Southam’s work.

There’s no question in my mind that Egoyan gets everything she can get out of these four works. One has to approach this music in much the same way as one would approach Ravel’s “Le Gibet” (from Gaspard de la nuit )—that is, with real sensitivity for quiet, and for infinite gradations of tone at the gray end of the spectrum. Egoyan is a true believer, and if you listen responsibly, she will try to convert you as well.

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Works on This Recording

In Retrospect, for piano by Ann Southam
Performer:  Eve Egoyan (Piano)
Written: 2004 
Venue:  Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto 
Length: 14 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Qualities of Consonance, for piano by Ann Southam
Performer:  Eve Egoyan (Piano)
Written: 1998 
Venue:  Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto 
Length: 21 Minutes 18 Secs. 
Returnings No. 1 in A flat major for piano by Ann Southam
Performer:  Eve Egoyan (Piano)
Written: 2010 
Venue:  Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto 
Length: 15 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Returnings No. 2 in B flat major for piano "A Meditation" by Ann Southam
Performer:  Eve Egoyan (Piano)
Written: 2010 
Venue:  Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto 
Length: 10 Minutes 7 Secs. 

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