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Christian Wolff: 8 Duos / Schulkowsky, Kashkashian, Rzewski

Release Date: 03/12/2013 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80734   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Christian Wolff
Performer:  Frederic RzewskiRobyn SchulkowskyReinhold FriedrichJoey Baron,   ... 
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 38 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WOLFF For Morty 1 . For a Medley 2 . Violist and Percussionist 3 . Percussionist 5 2 . Rosas 1 . Pulse 4 . One Coat of Paint 5 . Duo 7 6 Robyn Schulkowsky (perc); Read more 1 Frederic Rzewski (pn); 2 Joey Baron (perc); 3 Kim Kashkashian (va); 4 Reinhold Friedrich (tpt); 5 Rohan de Saram (vc); 6 Christian Wolff (melodica) NEW WORLD 8734-2 2 (2 CDs: 97:50)

In this same issue I review Robyn Schulkowsky as a composer. Here she’s featured in every work performing a composer with whom she’s undertaken a long-time collaboration, Christian Wolff (b.1934).

As the youngest (and sole surviving) member of the circle around Cage in the 1950s that’s become known as the “New York School” (similar to that of Abstract Expressionist painting), Wolff’s music has taken consistently radical approaches to composition and performance. Like Cage, he’s explored indeterminacy, especially with a notation that I’d term “situational,” describing actions and responses of performers to one another, based on the materials with which they initiate the process. (Some of the works in this collection, such as Violist and Percussionist, seem to be such, according to George Lewis’s engaging notes.) In other cases, such as Rosas (1990), he subjects historic popular tunes, often with political content, to arbitrary processes of deconstruction, prismatically fracturing them. But above all, he treats sounds with a kind of deadpan democracy. Whether pitched or unpitched, the two players in each duo go their own respective way; the notes are plain and not overly refined in timbral shaping, phrasing, or special effects; and connections tend to emerge through our own readings as listeners rather than through obvious intent of the composer. I’ll admit that in some of these pieces (in particular the aforementioned viola/percussion duet, despite great attention to detail from one section to another; and the two percussion duos) this approach can become too close to aimless meandering for my taste. Repeated listenings have lessened the effect, but it still lingers.

But then there are other works where the plainness takes on a miraculous, almost inadvertent sheen. Rosas has undertones of jazz and blues, due to its folkish sources. For Morty , a memorial for Feldman, has quite heartbreaking, delicately tolling bells dancing slowly with the piano (both works feature the great composer and pianist Frederic Rzewski, bringing yet another level of historic interaction to this recital). The 1998 Pulse for trumpet with percussion is an essay in straight eighth-note rhythms, repeated notes (including comically low ones), and strangely martial flourishes. Its changes of percussion instrumentation and trumpet mutings seem particularly right, and it maintains a tensely humorous energy, despite its streamlined texture. One Coat of Paint (2004) is the longest work on the program, and in it all the qualities enumerated above come together into intense, intimate music-making, little events becoming somehow significant, surprises at every turn. Finally, the Duo 7 of 2007 features the composer on the humble melodica in duet with Schulkowsky, and the piece emerges as supremely sweet and funny.

As one may gather, despite occasional reservations, I remain a deep admirer of Wolff’s work. I actually still find him mysterious, and am pleasantly befuddled as to why music so homespun and austere can move me so. Schulkowsky in the often clanky percussion writing seems thoroughly in control. All other performers are similarly on target. There are gems here.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Rosas by Christian Wolff
Performer:  Frederic Rzewski (Piano), Robyn Schulkowsky (Percussion)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989-1990; USA 
Pulse by Christian Wolff
Performer:  Reinhold Friedrich (Trumpet), Robyn Schulkowsky (Percussion)
Period: 20th Century 
For Morty by Christian Wolff
Performer:  Frederic Rzewski (Piano), Robyn Schulkowsky (Percussion)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1987 
For a Medley by Christian Wolff
Performer:  Joey Baron (Percussion), Robyn Schulkowsky (Percussion)
Violist and Percussionist by Christian Wolff
Performer:  Robyn Schulkowsky (Percussion), Kim Kashkashian (Viola)
Percussionist 5 by Christian Wolff
Performer:  Joey Baron (Percussion), Robyn Schulkowsky (Percussion)
One Coat of Paint by Christian Wolff
Performer:  Robyn Schulkowsky (Percussion), Rohan de Saram (Cello)
Duo 7 by Christian Wolff
Performer:  Robyn Schulkowsky (Percussion), Christian Wolff (Melodica)

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