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Liderman: Waking Dances / Tanenbaum, Osterreich, Et Al

Release Date: 08/31/2004 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9150   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jorge Liderman
Performer:  David Tanenbaum
Conductor:  Mary ChunHelmut Osterreich
Orchestra/Ensemble:  EarplayBaden-Würtemberg Youth Guitar Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 45 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Jorge Liderman (b. 1957) has been writing for guitarist David Tanenbaum since 1998, and this album is the fruit of their collaboration. The “source work” was Waking Dances, a three-movement suite of fantasy pieces. The first is largest in structure and packed with contrasts of texture and materials, ranging from flamenco-like strums to idiomatic arpeggiations to contrapuntal densities. The second is more dance-like. Its tricky rhythmic motives are arranged against the even tread of a background rhythmic grid, which highlights the syncopations and prismatic shifts of register. The motoric texture and the harmonies are vaguely suggestive of Hindemith, a composer not much cited today as an influence, but one still worth considering. The final Read more movement is much more lyrical and concentrates of timbral contrasts, not for the sake of mere effect, but as a way to enlarge the expressive range of the instrument and suggest new formal connections. The muting of strings to create an effect similar to the African mbira is mysterious and beautiful.

Swirling Streams (2003) is perhaps most notable for its instrumentation: guitar, bass clarinet, and string trio. The sound, on the page seemingly an encounter of incongruities, actually makes great acoustic sense. It’s transparent, balanced in color, attack characteristics, and register. The playing of Earplay’s bass clarinetist, Peter Josheff, beautifully smooth, focused, and restrained, helps to make such an attractive blend. The work is about 20 minutes long, in a single movement that breaks down into smaller sections. Its most distinguishing characteristic is scalar figures that twist and “swirl” as the title suggests. At about nine minutes into the work, all the instruments join in a compelling ascending gesture that generates real harmonic tension for a sustained time. Toward the end, tricky parallel play between the guitar on the one side, and the bass clarinet and trio on the other, creates a texture that somehow had me thinking of organum, even though there’s no obvious aural connection to the medieval technique.

Open Strings dates from 2001, and came about from Liderman’s hearing Tanenbaum’s student orchestra play a realization of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint for multiple acoustic guitars (the work is originally for solo electric guitar with pre-recorded multitracked lines of the instrument). It shows its connection to its model in its clockwork of interlocked, compact scalar motives distributed throughout the ensemble. It also is quite different from Reich in the far faster rate of harmonic change, diversity of motives, and stark contrasts of texture.

This work is the most problematic for me, and I think it comes from two factors that probably don’t have to do with the actual score. The first is the recording, which seems a little closer and more cramped than that of the other two works. In fact, it was apparently done in Germany, the solo and chamber pieces in the Bay Area. The second comes from matters of instrumentation. Liderman says he wrote the work originally for nine guitars and electric bass, yet the recorded version uses 23 guitars and bass. The doubling of parts written for solo instrument by two or three guitarists creates a slight haze, with attacks that are not quite in sync. If the music didn’t demand so much rhythmic precision this might not be an issue, but it seems disconcertingly out of focus, in particular the first movement. (The second movement, with its simulation of a sort of “meta-harp,” and third, with its incisive strums fighting with surging bass lines, fare better.)

Two other musical issues arise from the other pieces. In the first movement of Waking Dances, I found myself feeling that the music was a little crowded, that Tanenbaum was straining some against the notes. On then reading Liderman’s remarks, he says the guitarist originally suggested he write for guitar duo, but that despite his contrapuntal tendencies he preferred to write for the solo medium. I think I hear some of the tension as a result. (This obviously comes from aesthetic choice and not ignorance of the instrument, as Liderman first trained as a classical guitarist.) And in Swirling Streams, there’s a gorgeous section right in the middle where the guitar gently “tolls” while the strings play senza vibrato harmonics. I found myself settling into its Feldmanesque beauty, only to have it stop sooner than I’d like. What both these instances suggest to me is that the Liderman is eager to say a lot, and a little impatient with moments that may feel too simple or spare. While this maximalist ambition is worthy, it also risks weakening the breadth and breath of the music. Real beauties can get squashed when packed too tightly.

So there are good musical ideas and striking musical moments, but they are sometimes compromised by a desire to do perhaps more than the materials require for their most elegant realization. Having said this, I hasten to add that David Tanenbaum and the Earplay musicians give this music their all, and show copious sensitivity, technique, and artistry. The timing for the program is a little short, but considering the focus on three guitar works of a single composer, in collaboration with a specific artist, it may be preferable to having added another, unrelated work.
Robert Carl, FANFARE Read less

Works on This Recording

Waking Dances by Jorge Liderman
Performer:  David Tanenbaum (Guitar)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1998; USA 
Swirling Streams by Jorge Liderman
Performer:  David Tanenbaum (Guitar)
Conductor:  Mary Chun
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Earplay
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2003; USA 
Open Strings by Jorge Liderman
Conductor:  Helmut Osterreich
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baden-Würtemberg Youth Guitar Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001; USA 

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