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Shifting Cells / Griffiths, Ryan, Columbus State University Percussion Ensemble

Griffin / David / Muhly / Cherney / Rumbelow
Release Date: 10/09/2012 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1375   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Charles GriffinJames Michael DavidNico MuhlyBrian Cherney,   ... 
Performer:  Amy GriffithsJonathan Ryan
Conductor:  Matthew PriceRobert W. Rumbelow
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Columbus State University Percussion Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SHIFTING CELLS Paul Vaillancourt, cond; Matthew Price, cond; 1 Robert Rumbelow, cond; 2 Amy Griffiths (sax 3 ); Jonathan Ryan (org 4 ); Columbus State Univ Perc Ens ALBANY 1375 (59:16)

GRIFFIN 3 Fist Through Traffic. Read more class="COMPOSER12"> J. M. DAVID Shifting Cells. 3 The Locomotive Geryon. MUHLY I Shudder to Think. CHERNEY 1 In Gottes Gärten schweigen die Engel. RUMBELOW 2,4 Soundscape

Nico Muhly (b. 1981) is both the youngest and the most recorded of the composers represented here. Surely his six-year association with Philip Glass as a MIDI programmer and his studies at Juilliard with Christopher Rouse and John Corigliano has not hurt. He is now a part of New York’s so-called alt-classical scene, much beloved of the city’s young trendy audiences, but more ambivalently received by traditional critics. I Shudder to Think shows influences of Minimalism in the segments of shifting ostinatos, but I have not heard enough of what Rouse or Corigliano might do with a battery of drums and mallet instruments to assess their influence. Be that as it may, a percussion ensemble seems a good fit for Muhly, as he has created a tightly constructed and colorful work for the quartet: alternately mesmeric and explosive.

James Michael David (b. 1978) is also a well-known composer, especially but not exclusively among wind and percussion aficionados. He is assistant professor of composition and music theory at Colorado State University, but is clearly a favored son in his native Georgia as this commission and this arrangement attest. The Locomotive Geryon addresses itself to intimidating and seductive power and speed, as in Dantian monsters from The Inferno and large motorcycles. A 2002 work for saxophone and piano, it was arranged for saxophone and percussion ensemble by Columbus State University Percussion Ensemble director Paul Vaillancourt in 2008. Ironically, while still persuasive in its new garb, the work has been softened a bit by Vaillancourt, making it less percussive than the work with piano. In 2008, the ensemble also commissioned Shifting Cells , a gamelan-like exploration of rhythms and colors for percussion quartet, utilizing the pentatonic scale to add a multicultural (i.e. exotic) feel to the music. David creates an illusion of constantly shifting tempos within a constant beat through a process called tempo modulation while also shifting the pulse to keep the music agreeably offbeat.

Charles B. Griffin (b. 1968) was working on his doctorate at the University of Minnesota when he composed Fist Through Traffic (1993), a three-movement homage to life in his native New York and to the pop musical style of Paul Simon. High energy, jazzy, and using the ensemble as a driving, often minimalist, ostinato under the soloist, it is an immediately appealing work. Columbus State University saxophone professor Amy Griffiths captures the edginess and bluesy casualness perfectly, while revealing an unusually attractive sound that I assume came in part from her studies in Paris with Delangle and Fourmeau.

The title of Canadian composer Brian Cherney’s 2006 work for percussion soloist and ensemble, derived from a line of a poem by Rilke, can be translated as In God’s Garden the Angel’s Grow Silent . Bits and snatches of Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze appear as if floating on the wind from afar. Bells ring as if from distant carillons. The serenity is disturbed only twice, most seriously about two-thirds through the work, but silence and repose are restored again as birds seem to sing. Such are the interplay of textures and the evocation of timelessness and infinite space that the work never ceases to be absorbing.

Only one work failed to fully engage. Robert Rumbelow (b. 1965) is director of bands at the University of Illinois, but prior to that he held the same position at Columbus State University and led their wind ensemble in an earlier CD release on Naxos ( Fanfare 33:5). He is relatively unknown as a composer, and Soundscape (2009) is the first piece by him I have encountered. The unusual sonorities, announced with drums pounding out over dissonant chords from the full organ, initially seize the attention. However, when the piece soon thereafter turns atmospheric and then ruminative, it is neither melodically or rhythmically distinctive enough to maintain that interest over a 10-minute span.

Purchasers should note that someone has made a mess of the listing of tracks on the case insert. Only the first and last works are correctly listed. Rumbelow’s Soundscape is actually the second piece (track 4), while Cherney’s work is third (track 5), David’s Shifting Cells appears fourth (track 6), and the Muhly appears fifth (track 7). I assume later runs, if any, will be put right. Otherwise, production values are high, and the performances are first rate. Clearly Georgia’s Columbus State University has a percussion program of which to be proud. This is a release that any fancier of percussion music will want to explore.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Fist Through Traffic by Charles Griffin
Performer:  Amy Griffiths (Saxophone)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Columbus State University Percussion Ensemble
Shifting Cells by James Michael David
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Columbus State University Percussion Ensemble
I Shudder To Think by Nico Muhly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Columbus State University Percussion Ensemble
In Gottes Gärten schweigen die Engel by Brian Cherney
Conductor:  Matthew Price
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Columbus State University Percussion Ensemble
Soundscape for organ and percussion ensemble by Robert Rumbelow
Performer:  Jonathan Ryan (Organ)
Conductor:  Robert W. Rumbelow
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Columbus State University Percussion Ensemble

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