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The Music Of Godfrey Winham

Winham / Arnold / Feinberg
Release Date: 04/09/2013 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1408   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Godfrey Winham
Performer:  Tony ArnoldAlan FeinbergKyle ArmbrustDavid Fulmer,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Computer Synthesized Sound
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WINHAM The Habit of Perfection 1. To Prove My Love 2. Variations on a Theme by James Pierpont 3. NP 1,2 Tony Arnold (sop); 1 David Fulmer (vn); 1 Kyle Armbrust (vn); 1 Cyrus Beroukhim (va); Read more class="SUPER12">1 Christopher Gross (vc); 2,3 Alan Feinberg (pn) ALBANY 1408 (49:04 Text and Translation)

It is always gratifying to me to see evidence of someone keeping alive the memory of a composer who is not well known, and is no longer alive to promote his own music. Godfrey Winham was born in 1934 in London and died in 1975 in New Jersey at the youthful age of 41. There is certainly enough music out there that should be allowed to pass quietly into oblivion, but I will say at the outset that Winham’s music is worth preserving. Winham has drawn from elements found in the music of Bartók, Berg, Sessions (with whom he studied), and other good models, and forged it into a personal and expressive idiom. He was also the first recipient (in 1963) of a Ph.D. in composition from Princeton University, and was one of the earlier composers to write for computer, working in the early 1960s on the RCA Sound Synthesizer. His work with computers became widely known and used, as he was the developer of the Music 4B Program used by many universities throughout the U.S. He was married to the well-known soprano Bethany Beardslee, who contributed program notes to the CD in hand.

The disc opens with The Habit of Perfection, a brief (nine-minute) work for soprano and string quartet based on a poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889). Along with the following piano-accompanied To Prove My Love, a setting of three sonnets of Shakespeare, the performers in these works get quite a workout, especially the vocal soloist, who has numerous and often large leaps to negotiate. Soprano Tony Arnold does an exemplary job in hitting the notes convincingly, and in singing the texts and not just the music. My only minor quibble is that her voice sounds a bit strained in her top register. The style of these pieces is rather expressionistic, but likely not 12-tone.

Amazing in its contrast to the above two works is Variations on a Theme by James Pierpont . Yes, you actually do know this composer: He is the composer of Jingle Bells, which is exactly the theme that is worked into a set of variations here. And, yes, the variations are every bit as tonal as the theme upon which they are based. It would have been nice if Albany, or the producer of this issue, had seen fit to give us the background and inspiration for the various works, especially this beautiful tonal example of divergence (I presume) from the composer’s usual atonal style. I couldn’t help but wonder as I listened to this work what Sessions thought of it, if indeed he ever heard it, given that it is much more tonal than even the earliest of Sessions’s own compositions. Winham has amply demonstrated that he had something valid to say in this style, even though I hear little in it of Schubert, whose style he was apparently trying to copy (the notes are not completely clear on this point). There’s also not as much reference to the theme in this set of variations as one usually hears, but the music is lovely and can be enjoyed on its own terms. At 26 minutes, this is the major work on the CD.

The final work, NP, is for computer-synthesized sound, and is approximately contemporaneous with the Variations . If the listener has not already received something of a jolt in the stylistic shift between the second and third works on this disc, the transition to the last track will do the trick. The notes don’t provide even the slightest hint as to the significance of the title, but they do mention that this work was probably the first piece composed for computer performance. Previously issued on CRI, the two-movement work’s brevity is such that the piece was over just as I was beginning to get into it. Given Winham’s reputation and pioneering work with computer music, I’m glad that this seminal work was included in this recital. The CD’s relatively short timing would have permitted the inclusion of some additional works by Winham (which I would have been interested to audition), but lest I seem curmudgeonly, I am grateful to have heard the four works herein, and I believe that many Fanfare readers will feel likewise. Recommended, then, as a “something for everyone” sort of disc.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

To Prove My Love by Godfrey Winham
Performer:  Tony Arnold (Soprano), Alan Feinberg (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1957-1960; USA 
N P (Two Pieces for Computer-Synthesized Sound) by Godfrey Winham
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Computer Synthesized Sound
Period: 20th Century 
The Habit of Perfection by Godfrey Winham
Performer:  Kyle Armbrust (Violin), Tony Arnold (Soprano), David Fulmer (Violin),
Cyrus Beroukhim (Viola), Christopher Gross (Cello)
Variations on a Theme by James Pierpont by Godfrey Winham
Performer:  Alan Feinberg (Piano)

Sound Samples

The Habit of Perfection
To Prove My Love: No. 1. Lord of My Love
To Prove My Love: No. 2. Accuse me thus for I have scanted all
To Prove My Love: No. 3. Le me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments
Variations on a Theme by James Pierpont: Introduction and Theme
Variations on a Theme by James Pierpont: Variation 1
Variations on a Theme by James Pierpont: Variation 2
Variations on a Theme by James Pierpont: Variation 3
Variations on a Theme by James Pierpont: Variation 4: Waltz
Variations on a Theme by James Pierpont: Variation 5: March
Variations on a Theme by James Pierpont: Variation 6
Variations on a Theme by James Pierpont: Variation 7
Variations on a Theme by James Pierpont: Finale

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