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Talking In My Sleep: Chamber Music Of Murray Gross

Release Date: 01/08/2013 
Label:  Blue Griffin   Catalog #: 271   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Murray Gross
Performer:  Jennifer KennardOsiris MolinaTakeshi Abo
Conductor:  John WhitwellMurray Gross
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Woodland TrioFoliasExtreme Duality,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GROSS Folie à deux. 3,4 Under the Influence. 1 Cloud Forest. 5 Waiting, Again, for Lady Yang. 4 Between Friends. 6 Talking in My Sleep. 7 Spring Fever. 8 Imagine All the People 2 Read more 1 John Whitwell, cond; 2 Murray Gross, cond; 3 Jennifer Kennard (fl); 4 Osiris Molina (cl); 5 The Woodland Trio; 6 Carmen Maret (fl); 6 Andrew Bergeron (gtr); 7 Takeshi Abo (vn); 8 Extreme Duality; 1 Michigan St Ch Winds; 2 Musique 21 BLUE GRIFFIN 271 (67:36)

This disc, named after the sixth piece on it ( Talking in My Sleep ), presents us with the music of Murray Gross who studied at Michigan State University, the Oberlin Conservatory, Hochschule für Musik, and the New England Conservatory. The notes also indicate that Gross was chosen by Antal Doráti as assistant conductor of the Detroit Symphony. So what is his music like? Well, the first piece, Folie à deux, is a somewhat pastoral duet for flue and clarinet that steps sideways through harmonic and emotional changes. Gross says that he intended it as a fictional dialogue between a husband and a wife, including “the periodic desire of one party to be left alone.” The whimsical nature of this musical dialog comes across quite well in the playing of Kennard on flute and Molina on clarinet. The chamber wind orchestra of Michigan State then performs Under the Influence, which Gross says uses the Stravinsky Octet as a starting point, and like the Stravinsky work it uses non-developing structures and an irregular, discontinuous metric base, while at the same time trying to capture the “lighthearted spirit” of Mozart’s serenades, albeit with saxophones in the place of basset horns. Once again, the listener detects a musical form that moves sideways through harmonic changes, although the use of a larger ensemble (it sounded more like 10 or 11 instruments to me rather than eight) allows him the freedom to do much more in the way of texture. I was particularly delighted with his ability to mix-and-match instruments in a way that nearly always resulted in discrete textures, save for those moments when he blends the French horns with trombones (a trick originated back in the 1940s by the Claude Thornhill orchestra). Under the Influence also recycles portions of the Stravinsky octet but develops it in Gross’s own personal style—as he puts it, “in a manner similar to that in which he himself often used the music of earlier composers.”

One quality that permeates most of the music on this disc, one might say, is geniality. Gross is evidently a composer who wants listeners to like his music (what an innovation! just think of Milton Babbitt, who once said that composers should never care whether the public likes them or not), and this quality comes through even when what he writes is quite modern. Thus the same is true of the brief (five-minute) trio for flute, viola, and harp, Cloud Forest, which is the most accessible so far on this disc. Written as a recollection of his experiences walking the trails in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Costa Rica, Gross wittily and cleverly interrupts the general direction of the music (which is actually a bit more astringent than his previous pieces) with slightly ominous sounds that he says represent the emergence of strange animals along the trail. This is an extremely interesting work in that the complexity of its parts is quite remarkably and subtly disguised by his compositional techniques—an excellent example of “art concealing art.”

One of the more interesting aspects of Folie à deux is that Gross wrote quite a bit in it for the lower register of the clarinet, and in Waiting, Again, for Lady Yang he gives us an even more remarkable exploration of that portion of the instrument in music that is built around bitonal arpeggios. I found this quite interesting, particularly as my experience in listening to both classical and jazz clarinetists has seldom uncovered musicians in either discipline who utilize the lower (chalumeau) register (roughly E3 to B4) to such wonderful effect: Jimmie Noone and Irving Fazola, certainly, but other than them I can only think of Artie Shaw (in some of his records) and Tony Scott (in his later years, when exploring Music for Zen Meditation ), although the early jazz clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, in his later years (1958-1967), also played much more in the lower register than he had previously. Gross also calls for some buzzing of the reed for effect later on in this work.

Possibly because it is written for flute and guitar, Between Friends is, along with the previous work, one of the most intimate-sounding pieces on this disc. Oddly, however, I found that certain rhythmic elements of both Folie à deux and Waiting, Again also found their way into this work. The title piece, Talking in My Sleep, is composed for a cappella violin and is played in the beginning on the edge of the bow, creating a disturbing, edgy quality. Gross evidently wanted to capture the disturbing elements that flit through our dreams in addition to the “indistinct, but often intriguing sounds.” Takeshi Abo’s performance of this is absolutely spellbinding.

Spring Fever, played by a duo named Extreme Duality, consists of the odd combination of flute and double bass. Gross indicates that it was inspired by the bleakness of snow-covered woods in winter and his thoughts of animal hibernation, but moves through this to the “tentative first hints” of spring. I found this piece wittily clever in his manipulation of these two widely contrasting instruments in mood and rhythmic counter-movement as they play off each other.

The disc ends with Imagine All the People, a paean to John Lennon and his song Imagine , played by a mixed ensemble of a dozen instruments. The references are rather oblique, however, and the fragments of Lennon’s tune are fragmented. Moreover, the rhythm is also fragmented and asymmetric; but in the long run, this makes this piece all the more interesting and complex. Later sections have the 12 instruments playing polyphonic passages, again (like Under the Influence ) using discrete sound textures. Eventually the woodwinds and brasses coalesce in sound texture, but then part company as the upper woodwinds (flute and clarinet) become ever more astringent and percussion enters the picture. Eventually a lone oboe plays against chimes, which then leads into a quiet ensemble passage that ends the piece.

I should mention in passing that pieces 2, 3, and 8 are noted as being recorded live at Michigan State University, but no dates are given on the CD packaging. This is an excellent CD and a good introduction to Gross’s music.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Folie à deux, for flute & clarinet by Murray Gross
Performer:  Jennifer Kennard (Flute), Osiris Molina (Clarinet)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2006 
Venue:  Blue Griffin's Studio "The Ballroom" 
Length: 8 Minutes 56 Secs. 
Under the Influence, for wind ensemble by Murray Gross
Conductor:  John Whitwell
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2005 
Venue:  Live  Michigan State University, East Lansing, 
Length: 10 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Cloud Forest, for flute, viola & harp by Murray Gross
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Woodland Trio
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2002 
Venue:  Live  Michigan State University, East Lansing, 
Length: 5 Minutes 25 Secs. 
Waiting, Again, for Lady Yang, for clarinet by Murray Gross
Performer:  Osiris Molina (Clarinet)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2004 
Venue:  Blue Griffin's Studio "The Ballroom" 
Length: 5 Minutes 53 Secs. 
Between Friends, for flute & guitar by Murray Gross
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Folias
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2002 
Venue:  Blue Griffin's Studio "The Ballroom" 
Length: 7 Minutes 38 Secs. 
Talking in My Sleep, for violin by Murray Gross
Performer:  Takeshi Abo (Violin)
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2005 
Venue:  Blue Griffin's Studio "The Ballroom" 
Length: 8 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Spring Fever, for flute & double bass by Murray Gross
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Extreme Duality
Period: Contemporary 
Venue:  Blue Griffin's Studio "The Ballroom" 
Length: 9 Minutes 17 Secs. 
Imagine All the People, for chamber ensemble by Murray Gross
Conductor:  Murray Gross
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Musique 21
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2005 
Venue:  Live  Michigan State University, East Lansing, 
Length: 11 Minutes 17 Secs. 

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