Notes and Editorial Reviews
Zook. Lines. Neshanic Waves. Zoom. Bugaboo. 0 to 33 in 1098.5
New York New Music Ens
ALBANY TROY 1047 (64: 06)
Craig Walsh (b. 1971) writes a bright and snappy music rooted in modernism, but also referencing the carefree attitude of American pop culture. Works like
(1997) for mixed quintet, and
0 to 33 in 1098.5
(1994) for violin, clarinet, and piano have brightly contrasting, sharply spliced sections, funkily angular rhythmic loops, motives that are disjunct and dissonant, but function a bit like pop hooks, and harmonies that aren’t tonal, but also tend to accept the idea that a “center” isn’t a bad thing. Uptown meets cartoon soundtrack—a mix that’s much in favor at the moment. Stravinsky (especially the late period) is a godfather in the wings. And though I may sound a little flippant here, the music
give off a good energy and has real wit.
(1995), for violin and piano, is a suite of four movements, with the conceit being that a recurrent musical idea is subjected to different degrees of “focus”; the idea is compelling, though I find the materials a bit too abstract to hear the process as clearly as Walsh wants us to.
Walsh’s trajectory seems to have been that of a young composer lapping up the experience of his mentors at Brandeis in the 1990s, then taking off on his own (the characteristics I describe above remind me of the music of David Rakowski, one of the brightest of his generation and a teacher there, who takes the ethos of Wuorinen and gives it a lighter twist, thanks in part to his jovial personality). But after the turn of this century, I hear more depth emerging in Walsh’s work.
(2002), the discs’s “title track,” is similar in spirit to the earlier pieces, but develops a real head of rhythmic steam near its end, then disintegrates into a flurry of sparkling sonic shards (something of a trademark for the composer, it seems). It is the two smaller recent pieces, though, that pique my interest most.
(2002) is a solo piano work that builds a tremendous amount of energy from the simplest of initial ideas. It feels truly organic. And
(2007) for piano trio is the best of the lot for me. This piece has an essential stillness, yet seems to be always growing in its intensity and density. Throughout there are sustained tones that build tension and anchor the music in a strict architecture, and give it a signature sound. I know it must be my ear, but somehow the close miking of the violin—low register, and I think
makes it sound very like an alto sax in the opening. Very strange!
These are all excellent performances, by some of the best new-music specialists in New York. Walsh seems to me to be a composer coming into his own. The energy in this music, at its best, gives one a buzz. I like the way he’s moving, and I’ll be happy to hear more.
FANFARE: Robert Carl