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American Flute Quintets / Wincenc, Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival

Foote / Beach / Wincenc / Lawrence / Stuart
Release Date: 06/12/2012 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9373   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Joan TowerArthur FooteAmy Marcy Beach
Performer:  Sheila BrowneKevin LawrenceCarol WincencCarolyn Stuart,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

A wonderful disc and the music is brilliantly played.

Only the other day I had never heard of Joan Tower. Then I watched a BBC Proms on television during which they played one of Tower’s five Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman. This was a nice touch following, as it did Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. Now I have this disc and I read in the booklet notes that she has been described as “one of the most successful woman composers of all time”, then explaining how she takes issue with “qualifying designation ‘woman’”. I’m with her since no male composer would be given the designation as ‘male’ but just as ‘composer’ and, in any case, music cannot be said to be either male or female; it is just music. I
Read more don’t know what the New Yorker mean by “most successful” either but both of her works I have now heard are excellent in every way. The booklet includes her description of her piece Rising in which she explains the thinking behind it saying how she has always been interested in how music can “go up”. I’ve always found it staggering as to how composers can describe all kinds of things from emotion to movement in an art form with its own unique non-verbal ‘language’. Joan Tower mentions Beethoven as being a particular example of someone who understood all the elements involved in representing the action of rising (or falling). Though Haydn’s Sunrise quartet (Op.76 no.4) was given its title by a publisher its opening is a good example of music describing the action of rising as is Vaughan Williams’ The Lark ascending. Joan Tower’s Rising is a brilliant addition to these works. The music perfectly achieves its aim and the flute seems to be the ideal instrument to use for this purpose. It is an extremely evocative piece of great beauty which represents everything that is the best about contemporary music, namely that it is exploratory yet immediately accessible.
I have come across the composer Arthur Foote before and was struck by how much I enjoyed his music. This work confirms those feelings. The Two Pieces bear the titles Night Piece and Scherzo and are understandably among his most popular works. Night Piece is a simple title as befits a work that is as beautifully simple as it is simply beautiful. Long and flowing melodic lines led by mellifluous sounds from the flute are accompanied by the quartet. Then a gorgeous theme emanates from the violin which picks up the lead. The work ends with the five instruments together. Scherzo begins with a Dvo?ákian dumka which then leads into a dialogue among the instruments before a return to another dance-like theme. Foote was resolute in pursuing his own internal musical dictates resisting any pressure to conform to the current trends of his era. His music has deservedly achieved its status as incorporating the best tenets of American music; freedom and innovation.
If Joan Tower is known as “one of the most successful woman composers of all time” then surely Amy Beach must be another and she was the first American woman to compose any large-scale symphonic works and wrote over 300 works in total. Having to triumph over the constraints placed upon her first by an overbearing family and then by an arranged marriage to a surgeon 25 years her senior, Amy Beach, who took back her maiden name of Cheney after her husband died, wrote music that has endured and is becoming even better known today as more discs of her music appear. Her Theme and Variations, Op.80 is based, so I read in the booklet, on one of her own melodies, An Indian Lullaby which is treated to six variations and ends with a coda. The premise is that the women’s voices in the original implore the “forest breeze to lull the child to sleep with the soothing scent of pine needles”. The music is ravishing, with the flute playing the principle role though the other instruments do get their moments too, especially the cello, which has some achingly beautiful passages, particularly in variation number 5. Everything of Amy Beach that I have heard I have really enjoyed and this is another example of her huge talent. Women composers today are certainly more fortunate in their freedom to express themselves though it will still be a greater struggle for them than for men which is why they have to strive to be better than men - which often they are! - and Amy Beach is a shining example of those efforts. Her music is certainly up there with the best composed at the time and which has rightfully remained both successful and popular.
This is a wonderful disc and the music is brilliantly played by five highly talented musicians and Joan Tower herself is quoted as saying that flautist Carol Wincenc “could make Three Blind Mice sound like it came from Heaven!!” I must concur; she is one of a growing number of superb flautists making a name for themselves and encouraging composers to write music for them that further expands the repertoire which is a win-win situation for us all.
-- Steve Arloff , MusicWeb International

Although born in New York, Joan Tower spent much of her childhood in South America. Returning to the United States, she studied music with Otto Luening, Jack Beeson, and Vladimir Ussachevsky. The winner of numerous major awards, she is professor of music at Bard College in New York, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her 16-minute piece Rising heard on this Bridge disc is dedicated to American flute quartets and was written in 2010. It shows how she balances a rising theme with some notes and textures that stay on one level and others that descend. In the booklet that accompanies the disc she is quoted as saying that one can’t just go up. She believes that there should be a counterbalance that is either going down or maintaining a particular level. In this piece her rising theme competes with various textures and lines of notes. Carol Wincenc of the Juilliard School and the New York Woodwind Quintet plays the melody with exquisite tonal quality while a string quartet from the Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival consisting of Kevin Lawrence, Carolyn Stuart, Sheila Browne, and Brooks Whitehouse provides an energetically applied counterbalance. Arthur Foote (1853-1937) was a Massachusetts-born, Harvard-educated composer who became a member of the Boston Six along with George Whitefield Chadwick, Amy Beach, Edward MacDowell, John Knowles Paine, and Horatio Parker. He was the first noted American classical composer to be trained entirely in the United States. His Two Pieces from 1918, “A Night Piece,” sometimes called a nocturne, and Scherzo, show his individual style. Although his music is closer to that of his European colleagues than later American compositions, it is distinctive. His night music is smooth textured, calming, and a bit exotic like a warm evening at the edge of a forest. His Scherzo is light and amusing. Both are played with stylistic grace by Wincenc and with smooth harmonies by the quartet. These two pieces can also be found on a Naxos 1998 recording on which James Barbagallo and the DaVinci quartet play them somewhat faster. Unfortunately Naxos’s sound quality is somewhat lacking on this part of its disc.

Amy Beach (1867-1944) was the first successful American female composer of large-scale art music. She was a child prodigy but received very little formal training. She taught herself by studying works such as Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier. The theme of her op. 80, Theme and Variations for Flute and String Quartet composed in 1916 is her own four-part song, Indian Lullaby. It is played by the string quartet while the flute plays its own theme as well as her exuberant variations. She gives us an exotic melody, a slow waltz, a silvery flute tune, romantic harmonies, and an energetic Allegro giocoso that includes a bit of classicism. All of these many-colored strands are neatly tied up by the short coda that includes a recapitulation of the original lullaby. This piece is also found on a 1999 Chandos recording with the Amsbache Chamber Ensemble, but at the moment it is only available as an MP3 download. Wincenc and the Green Mountain group play all of the pieces on the disc with consummate virtuosity and I think lovers of chamber music will want to own this disc.

FANFARE: Maria Nockin
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Works on This Recording

Rising for Flute and String Quartet by Joan Tower
Performer:  Sheila Browne (Viola), Kevin Lawrence (Violin), Carol Wincenc (Flute),
Carolyn Stuart (Violin), Brooks Whitehouse (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Nocturne and Scherzo for Flute and String Quartet "A Night Piece" by Arthur Foote
Performer:  Sheila Browne (Viola), Kevin Lawrence (Violin), Carol Wincenc (Flute),
Carolyn Stuart (Violin), Brooks Whitehouse (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1918; USA 
Notes: Two Pieces for Flute and String Quartet:
1. A Night Piece
2. Scherzo 
Theme and Variations for Flute and String Quartet, Op. 80 by Amy Marcy Beach
Performer:  Sheila Browne (Viola), Kevin Lawrence (Violin), Carol Wincenc (Flute),
Carolyn Stuart (Violin), Brooks Whitehouse (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1916; USA 

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