Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Highest Recommendation a short CD review

The Merling Trio Performs Works By Curtis Curtis-Smith: Albany, TROY 148

It’s been a while since last listening to a composer I’d heard about but never heard. This time it’s Curtis Curtis-Smith who I had known before only because William Bolcom dedicated one of his Three Dance Portraits to him, he also has given him a recommendation as being an undiscovered treasure. Hearing this recording of chamber works it’s astounding that he isn’t a household name.

This is music that is distinctive, original and, though I hate the term, accessible. I suspect it might not be more often played because the rhythmic originality might give players some challenges but that doesn’t need to worry listeners. The harmonic language is tonal but unlike some tonal music written in the last twenty-five years, it lacks the mildew of an ideological agenda or impaired ingenuity. It doesn’t even get stuck on the entirely original rhythms.
This is strikingly good music about that is about itself, not it’s techniques.

It is worth noting that one of Curtis-Smith’s teachers was the late Kenneth Gaburo, one of the most un-repetitive composers in history, of whom Virgil Thomson said he “has the best ear among our far-outs.” I’d go off into a tangent about available recordings of his music but this is about his student. I suspect that the reputedly difficult Gaburo must have sometimes been quite pleased with his student.

The descriptions of the individual pieces begun for this review are being dropped because I can’t in good conscience do more than tell you that this is unlike anything you are likely to have heard. Fresh, maybe that will do for a start. Absorbing, personal, entirely musical. I am going to have to leave it at that. You should come to it unbiased.

The excellent playing is by the Merling Trio, the Stuttgart Wind Quintet and Dennis Russell Davies. The CD sounds almost like being in a recital room with them.

So, good news. The tonality wars are over. We can like whatever we like without having to worry about the neo-tonal, the 12-tone or any other sides. Composers can compose what they want to without worrying about ideology. We can like it all.

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