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Leonard SALZEDO (1921-2000)
Partita Op.112 (1975)
Sonatina for Tuned Gongs and Piano Op. 115 (1976)
Four Antiphones for Chorus, Tuned Gongs and Piano Op. 121 (1977)
Giuoco Dei Colpi Op. 105 (1972)
Epifanía Op. 131 (1980)

Lou Cucunato (piano)
Wayne Cook (trumpet)
The Christopher String Quartet (Italy)
The UW-M Concert Chorale – Robert Porter and Sharon Hansen (directors)
The UW-M Music-With-Percussion Ensemble and The Milwaukee 20th Century Ensemble – Pavel Burda (director)
Recorded at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, School of the Arts, Recital Hall
ALBANY TROY511 DDD [62:41]

 

Earlier this year I reviewed the Dutton release of Salzedo’s Second and Seventh String Quartets coupled with the Sonata for Violin and Viola Op. 132, a disc that is undoubtedly one of my recordings of 2002. Within the same review I lamented the disheartening lack of representation Salzedo had in the current catalogue. Yet here, to end the year, we are given a second helping of Salzedo in works that, with the possible exception of the Partita that happens to be scored for percussion and string quartet, are as far removed as they could be from the works on the Dutton disc.

Albany give their disc the title, Epifanía: Five Pieces of Leonard Salzedo with Tuned Gongs. The gongs in question are a set of over two dozen chromatically tuned gongs manufactured by Paiste and which, not surprisingly perhaps, have a sound that immediately brings to mind the Balinese Gamelan. The origin of the works is directly attributable to conductor Pavel Burda who commissioned them from the composer after being entranced by the sound of the gongs, which he encountered during a recording session with the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg. It was Burda’s idea to exploit the various opportunities afforded by the timbral integration of the gongs with differing ensembles.

Anyone who is familiar with Salzedo’s music will recognise a number of his compositional hallmarks. These are present throughout these works. There is a preoccupation with, at times complex syncopations, insistent ostinato-like repeated rhythmic figurations and long stretches of tempo in perpetual motion, a device that fascinated the composer and crops up in many of his works. It is rhythm that is central to Salzedo’s stylistic approach.

The most substantial work here is the Partita for Percussion and String Quartet, a six-movement exploration of the wide-ranging sonorities that can be drawn from this interesting, if unusual, combination of instruments. Salzedo exploits, highly effectively, the opportunities for textural and rhythmic variety as well as articulation and attack, the latter notably in the second movement, Toccata, in which the strings play pizzicato throughout. In contrast, the Notturno features the strings in quiet sustained harmonies as percussion take centre stage, the fifth movement, Aria, assuming the reverse role. The final Moto Perpetuo is characteristically exciting and breathless, gathering velocity in its dash to the conclusion. In the same way that the Toccata concentrates on pizzicato strings, Giuoco dei Colpi, scored for percussion, piano and double bass (and incidentally inconsistently spelt with a double c on the booklet cover but a single c inside) shuns sustained notes concentrating instead on the articulation of strokes, (colpi) and interplay (giuoco). Not a strict moto perpetuo perhaps but the tempo is more or less constant throughout, the percussion instrumentation reliant solely on the tuned members of the family whilst the musical material is largely drawn from the chords heard at the outset. These are heard again at the close in reverse order. For a work of nearly nine and a half minutes duration with no significant changes of tempo Salzedo’s skill is considerable in weaving a shifting "mosaic" of textural and colouristic patterns, underpinned by the double bass, which lends a slightly jazzy feeling to the work at certain points.

In comparison, the Sonatina for Tuned Gongs and Piano, is a more fluid work, once again full of interesting textures and colours but marred slightly, to my ears at least, by a strange piano timbre not unlike that of an electric piano although we will assume not - given that there is no reference to it in the booklet. In fact if I have a criticism of the disc it is the fact that the acoustic qualities of the recording seem oddly inconsistent given that all five pieces were recorded in the same venue (Epifanía is the other work that seems to suffer most in this respect).

Of the two works involving choir the Four Antiphones (also know as the Four Marian Antiphons, presumably in an original version for choir alone) is particularly affecting. This draws in part on an old Spanish street cry (evidence here of Salzedo’s Spanish Jewish heritage) that surfaces in the second (Ave Regina Coelorum) and fourth (Salve Regina) pieces. For haunting beauty however, try the Regina Caeli Laetare, disarmingly simple but wonderfully atmospheric. Epifanía, the last work on the disc to be written, is worlds apart in character, a celebratory cantata featuring a prominent trumpet obbligato and setting a text by Spaniard José de Valdivielso (1560-1638) that initially attracted the composer as a result of its reference to drums and trumpets. Once again there are some reservations here about the seemingly woolly acoustic although the UW-M Concert Chorale give a gutsy, if rather unrefined, performance.

Although not for repeated listening in the same way as the Dutton release and despite some inconsistencies in both recording and performance, this is nonetheless an interesting disc, not to mention a most welcome addition to the Salzedo catalogue. It is only to be hoped that on the back of these two enterprising recent releases 2003 will bring further interest in this deserving composer.

Christopher Thomas


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