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David Lipten: Best Served Cold

Ciompi Quartet
Release Date: 01/14/2014 
Label:  Ablaze Records   Catalog #: 6  
Composer:  David Lipten
Performer:  Mark TollefsenJana StarlingOmri ShimronBeth Ilana Schneider
Conductor:  Robert GearyHarvey Sollberger
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ciompi String QuartetVolti
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

LIPTEN Ictus. 13 Show of Hands. 1 Whorl. 2,4,6 Time’s dream. 11,14 Gyre 3,5,7,8,9,10,12 David Lipten, Artistic Director; 1 Mark Tollefsen, 2 Omri Shimron, 3 James Winn (pn); Read more 4 Jana Starling (cl); 5 Jean Kopperud (cl, bcl); 6 Beth Ilana Schneider, 7 Laura Frautschi (vn); 8 Jayn Rosenfeld (fl, pc, afl); 9 Chris Finckel (vc); 10 Daniel Kennedy (perc); 11 Robert Geary, 12 Harvey Sollberger, cond; 13 Ciompi Quartet; 14 Volti ABLAZE AR00006 (63:28)

Reading the title of this CD, Best Served Cold, seeing the cover of a casually dressed and photographed gentleman, and given the name (“Ablaze”) of the label, one might be forgiven for assuming that the present release was some kind of a jazz or New Age issue. But the music on this CD can no more be considered jazz than can that of Roger Sessions, to whose music I hear similarities in some of the works recorded herein.

Ictus, the disc’s opening work, is a string quartet commissioned by the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University. The title refers to the alteration of established material through changes in speed, accentuation, and colors through varying bow strokes and articulations. This piece is, well, I don’t know whether to describe it as lyrically dissonant, or dissonantly lyrical. In other words, elements of various styles are intricately and convincingly woven together to produce a satisfying musical fabric. The following cleverly titled piano work, Show of Hands, is cast in three contrasting movements: the violent, all-over-the-keyboard “Best Served Cold,” the gently-atonal and meditative “Ever Since,” and the as-fast-as-can-be-played “Snap.” Originally the three movements were three separate works, having been commissioned on various occasions, but subsequent to their composition, the composer realized that they would form an effective suite, which indeed they do. “Snap,” in particular, has a whiff of the style of Conlon Nancarrow to it.

Whorl seems even more complex than the preceding works. In it, the clarinet, violin, and piano all are given involved lines, which the composer skillfully and intricately meshes to form arresting textures and sonorities. Occasionally, more tonal sonorities peep through the dissonance in captivating fashion. In Whorl, Lipten looks back to the ancient musical device of hocket, whereby one musical line is broken up and passed around to the various instruments. The composer compares this work to a family discussion in which each member is speaking at once, finishing each other’s sentences, etc. That seems a good analogy to the music being heard here. The conversation ends abruptly, as if the object of the family discussion suddenly walked into the room.

Time’s Dream is a six-movement work for a cappella chorus. Even though this is the most tonal (or least atonal) work on the CD, it fits in beautifully with the other works, and provides a most enjoyable contrast. My hat is off to Robert Geary and the choral group, Volti. This demanding work is tossed off seemingly effortlessly, with impeccable intonation and blend, and gorgeous vocal production; it is one of the most impressive displays of choral singing I’ve heard recently. The poetry set is by the capital-shy e. e. cummings, whom the notes nevertheless capitalize. Texts, all on the subject of time, are not included, but available on the Ablaze website.

The disc closes with Gyre, a sextet for flutes, clarinets, violin, cello, piano, and percussion, and the earliest composition on the CD. The composer describes the work as one of whirling contrast, combining the instruments in as many ways as possible. It’s a highly effective piece of writing that is full of colors seemingly beyond the forces employed.

All the performances on this CD sound dead-on to me—as strong as the music they’re presenting. Considering that the works were all recorded in different venues by different engineers, the consistency of the sonics is quite remarkable—and fine. This CD is indeed strong in every particular, and well worth exploring for those who feast on the music of such disparate but kindred composers as Elliott Carter, George Crumb, and György Ligeti.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

Ictus by David Lipten
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ciompi String Quartet
Show of Hands by David Lipten
Performer:  Mark Tollefsen (Piano)
Whorl by David Lipten
Performer:  Jana Starling (Clarinet), Omri Shimron (Piano), Beth Ilana Schneider (Violin)
Time’s dream by David Lipten
Conductor:  Robert Geary
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Volti
Gyre by David Lipten
Conductor:  Harvey Sollberger

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