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Claude Baker: Glass Bead Game / Slatkin, Vonk, St. Louis Symphony

Baker / Slso / Slatkin / Vonk
Release Date: 09/25/2012 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559642   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Claude Baker
Conductor:  Leonard SlatkinHans Vonk
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BAKER The Glass Bead Game. 1 Awaking the Winds. 2 Shadows: Four Dirge-Nocturnes. 3 The Mystic Trumpeter 4 Leonard Slatkin, cond; 4 Hans Vonk, cond; Saint Louis SO NAXOS 8.559642 (66:36) Live: St. Louis 1 1/21–24/1991; Read more 2 5/14–16/1993; 3 5/18–20/1990; 4 4/16–18/1999

From 1991 to 1999 Claude Baker was the composer-in-residence to the Saint Louis Symphony, the fourth and last in a program in which he was preceded by Joseph Schwantner (1982–85), Joan Tower (1985–88), and Donald Erb (1988–91). Recorded souvenirs of the residencies of the first three were issued by Nonesuch and New World; neither Schwantner release made it to CD, but the Tower and Erb did and can still be purchased. Though arguably the most compelling artist of this distinguished quartet—please don’t send nasty notes—and certainly the one longest in residence, Baker was not so honored. A 1993 live recording of Shadows: Four Dirge-Nocturnes was included in the limited edition commemorative set, The Slatkin Years , but that is long out of print. (The Naxos disc opts for the 1990 premiere.) So this Naxos release of live recordings originally made for broadcast between 1990 and 1999, funded by Indiana University in Bloomington where Baker holds an endowed professorship, is a most welcome redress of an unfortunate oversight.

The Glass Bead Game (1982/83)—inspired, as is almost all of his music, by a literary work and quoting from the compositions of others as annotation—is quintessential Claude Baker and therefore a perfect work to open the program. Baker, inspired by Hermann Hesse’s novel of the same name, takes his thesis from the intellectual narcissism of Hesse’s Castalian scholars. Their obsession with analyzing the past, their fascination with games, trivial detail, cleverness, and systemic complexity, and their eventual stagnation and decline through failure to create anything new are all reflected in the musical program. Baker uses Hesse and the music to shine a light on 20th-century musical obsessions, using a brilliantly executed numerologically complex serial canon; a dream-like, period-correct performance of a Johann Schein courtly dance commented upon by modern atonality; and an amazing collage of six works by Dallapiccola, Schoenberg, Vaughan Williams, Shostakovich, Penderecki, and Liszt, given unity by their incorporation of the famous B-A-C-H motive. These six pieces are assimilated Castalian-syle into a final movement, which is both amazing in its virtuosity and sobering in its ultimate emptiness.

Shadows: Four Dirge-Nocturnes (1990) and The Mystic Trumpeter (1999) are grounded as well in literary sources. In Shadows , Baker explores four haiku, using characteristics of the form—syllable counts, binary construction, and motivic concision—as compositional elements. The verses and the music are dark, evoking death, the graveyard, and mourning in each of the seasons from spring through winter. Woven into the nocturnal work are gestures, fragments, and quotes from works by Mahler, Britten, and Stravinsky, ending touchingly with a quote from “In diesem Wetter” from Kindertotenlieder. The Mystic Trumpeter concerns itself with Walt Whitman, finding both literal and symbolic connection between the verse—the title poem and “The Dalliance of the Eagles”—and Ives’s The Unanswered Question , and works by Messiaen, George Rochberg, and medieval troubadour Guiraut de Bornelh. Awaking the Winds (1993) is the anomaly. It has no literary precursor, contains no borrowed music, and is “freely chromatic” rather than Baker’s usual combination of tonality and atonality. Unlike the other works that are heavily driven by the percussion section, this one eschews even timpani. It essentially is a pastorale, though the composer disavows any programmatic intent, with suggestions of wind and sounds of nature, a storm, and a quiet dénouement.

During the decade of these performances, Leonard Slatkin and the SLSO had a well-deserved reputation as promoters of new music, especially by native composers, and the orchestra was in superb shape, able to play anything that their composer might write for them. Vonk, who took over the podium in 1996, may not have taken to the idiom as naturally, but the orchestra still knew the way home and the Dutch maestro paces them most effectively. The execution of this bold, dramatic, and exceedingly challenging music is flawless, the moments of quiet and delicacy are sublimely poised, and even more to the advantage of the music, all is presented with absolute conviction. Recordings exist online of Indiana University ensembles playing this music—although The Mystic Trumpeter seems to have disappeared for now—but good as they are—and the fine Shadows is even conducted by Slatkin—none of the IU performances can match these in function or insight. The recordings themselves, the majority engineered by the late/lamented William Hoekstra, are demonstration class, and reveal little of the very quiet audiences. I was present for at least three of these concert series, so for me there could not be a better tribute to Claude Baker or to his years with the SLSO than the release of these recordings. They should serve admirably to introduce the work of the composer to those not so fortunate, as well.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

The Glass Bead Game by Claude Baker
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1982/1983 
Date of Recording: 11/1991 
Awaking the Winds by Claude Baker
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1993; USA 
Date of Recording: 5/1993 
Shadows "4 Dirge-Nocturnes" by Claude Baker
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1990 
Date of Recording: 5/1990 
The Mystic Trumpeter by Claude Baker
Conductor:  Hans Vonk
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999 
Date of Recording: 4/1999 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Adventurous Listening of a good 20th Century comp March 11, 2013 By Lisa Ragsdale (Minneapolis, MN) See All My Reviews "Claude Baker is a name that is probably best known around Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music and St. Louis, MO for his years as the composer in residence with the St. Louis Symphony. However his music does not deserve obscurity. The major work on this CD is "The Glass Bead Game." Baker uses the same kind of imagery and methods that Herman Hesse used in writing the novel of the same name, only this time Baker uses music which is what the novel is about. "Awaking the Winds" and "Shadows" were both composed in the early 1990's, while "The Mystic Trumpeter" was composed in 1999. The performances are superb and the sound quality brings out the best in the St. Louis Symphony. If you are looking for something just a little different this is highly recommended." Report Abuse
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