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Eric Moe: Meanwhile Back At The Ranch / Firebird Ensemble

Moe / Firebird Ensemble
Release Date: 06/11/2013 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80741   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Eric Moe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Firebird Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



MOE Frozen Hours Melt Melodiously Into the Past. riprap. Preamble and Dreamsong from the 4–5 a.m. REM Stage. Mud Wrestling at the O.K. Corral. Meanwhile Back at the Ranch Firebird Ens NEW WORLD 80741-2 (61:45)


I’ve reviewed discs of Eric Moe (b. 1954) a couple of times now, and I continue to be impressed and engaged by his work. He is a composer who I now think I would recognize in a new piece’s “blind” audition, which speaks a lot towards the strength and individuality of his voice. If I were to try to Read more identify the aspects of his practice, I’d include: an infectious rhythmic sense; a sense of melody and texture that is based on tight motives that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle; and a real sense of humor (just look at the titles) that still doesn’t fall into easy slapstick. He’s genuinely scrupulous in the way that every sound seems carefully weighed and polished, yet it doesn’t become precious to my ear. I’m reminded a bit of another composer from the same generation I admire, Arthur Levering, though Moe’s music tends to have a little more engagement with popular idioms than Levering’s.


I think the thing that strikes me most about this release, however, is that another Moe comes more into focus than I’ve noted before, i.e. a composer who has a genuine lyric gift as well. Written for a sextet of flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and piano, Frozen Hours Melt Melodiously Into the Past (2009 ) and Meanwhile Back At The Ranch (2011) (the same sextet with percussion added) are two parts of a larger tone poem, The Deeds and Sufferings of Light , that lasts almost a half hour total. In each, along with driving, motoric sections, there are passages of much more broad-breathed song, all artfully woven into a rich contrapuntal texture. Dreamsong from the 4–5 a.m. REM Stage , a selection from a larger monodrama based on a story by David Foster Wallace, takes this approach the farthest, creating a sort of endless melody for violin and piano, always spinning out another phrase from the undertow of the previous one, shifting harmonically in ways that are simultaneously surprising and pleasing.


riprap (1989) for flute, cello, piano, and percussion (for those who don’t know, it’s loose stones bound into a wire armature, used for construction) is the earliest piece on the program, and in fact is a knockout. It’s a distillation of the “classic” Moe I enumerated above, and I find it enormous fun. Mud Wrestling at the O.K. Corral (2007) for cello and piano is perhaps the one work that doesn’t grab me quite as strongly. Somehow its rhythmic drive seems just a little more labored. And interestingly, some of the earlier, faster sections of Meanwhile Back at the Ranch strike me similarly. I can’t help but feel a few metronome markings higher would help the flow of the music, though since this is assuredly a composer-supervised affair, I assume this is exactly what Moe wants. And I do see how usually by the end of a piece a real breakneck tempo has been reached as a goal, justifying retrospectively the earlier tempos. But I still wish in a few places the music were allowed to be a little lighter on its feet.


Don’t take these quibbles, though, as any global critique. Moe knows what he’s doing, and his product is some of the most musical and satisfying of his generation in the U.S.


Finally, all of these works seem to come from a very fruitful collaboration between the composer and the Boston-based Firebird Ensemble. All but riprap seem to have been commissioned and/or premiered by them. While Fanfare ’s headnote policy has an established ensemble listed only by its name, it’s worth noting that Firebird’s players are Sarah Brady, flute; Rane Moore, clarinet; Gabriela Diaz, violin; Kate Vincent, viola; David Russell, cello; Sarah Bob and Cory Smythe, piano; and Aaron Trant, percussion. Jeffrey Means conducts Frozen Hours … and Meanwhile …; the composer is the assured pianist in the two duos, Preamble … and Mud Wrestling….


FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

1.
Frozen Hours Melt Melodiously Into The Past by Eric Moe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Firebird Ensemble
2.
Riprap by Eric Moe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Firebird Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989; USA 
3.
Preamble and Dreamsong from the 4-5 a.m. REM Stage by Eric Moe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Firebird Ensemble
4.
Mud Wrestling at the O.K. Corral by Eric Moe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Firebird Ensemble
5.
Meanwhile Back at the Ranch by Eric Moe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Firebird Ensemble

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