Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Bostonian Daniel Pinkham (b. 1923 and a characteristic product of the Boulanger/Piston axis) has carved out a very special niche for himself as a composer of organ and vocal music, some—but not all—of a liturgical cast. Pinkham has also put together a respectable catalog of large-scale orchestral pieces, including four symphonies and several concertante works. His earliest opuses have a brittle, nervous, neo-classical surface which owes something to the example of Stravinsky but is often capable of unbending and permitting passages of forthright, if austere, lyricism—both of these elements evident in the quite succinct Christmas and Wedding Cantatas of the late 1950s. Although the latter (a setting of excerpts from The Song of Songs) uses only piano accompaniment, the Christmas piece—one of Pinkham's most performed works—typically calls for an ensemble of brass and organ. (Not only is Pinkham an accomplished organist but, in his knowledgeable identification with the Baroque tradition, he has also written music-to-order, so to speak, including some of the best pages for harpsichord by any American.) Although often restricted in dynamics and color, his music makes quite sensuous and expressive use of moderate dissonance, and his themes and textures are always lucidly intelligible.
However, the much later and longer Advent Cantata of 1991 is considerably more severe and withdrawn in tone and seems to be modeled on the Stravinsky of the Cantata or the Threni rather than the Symphony of Psalms. But the real surprise of this program is Pinkham's first and to date only string quartet of 1990, which in its lugubrious and lachrymose echoes of Mahler and the early years of the Second Vienna School—though its chromatic density never falls fully into atonality or serialism—represents an unexpected departure—to these ears, at least. Though obviously deeply felt and carefully thought out, the music “doth protest too much“ (in this listener's hearing at least); its ten-minute slow movement is almost the length of the three other movements combined, but perhaps additional hearings will help modify this judgment. Also on this disc is a curious work— Introduction, Nocturne, and Rondo of 1984 for mandolin and guitar—in which the degree of pleasure to be had is exactly proportional to one's patience with two plucked instruments going at it simultaneously! Perhaps one of Pinkham's many excellent works for harpsichord might have made a better choice; but, come to think of it, his approach to this unconventional duo is quite similar.
An intriguing glimpse into the sound-world of an unusual, if marginal, figure on the American scene who, now that he has reached his seventieth year, deserves much more exposure and recognition. Rumors of a symphonic collection on this same label have circulated—let's hope this is indeed in the offing.
-- Paul A. Snook, FANFARE [11/1993]