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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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American Women Composers
Ursula MAMLOK

From My Garden (1983)
Designs (1962)
Sonata (1988)
Ruth CRAWFORD (1901-1953)

Sonata (1926)
Louise TALMA (b 1906)

Sonata (1962)
Ellen Taaffe ZWILICH (b 1939)

Sonata in Three Movements (1974)
Catherine Tait (violin)
Barry Snyder (piano)
Recorded Eastman Theatre of the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music 1995
GASPARO GSCD-300 [59.41]


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This is something of a tough, though not unrewarding, listen. It charts a particular strain of twentieth century American violin music or, to be more accurate, violin music written in America by women composers and much of it is stern and some of it is unyielding. Ursula Mamlok was born in Berlin and arrived in America in the early 1940s where she studied with George Szell and later Roger Sessions and Stefan Wolpe. Her 1988 Sonata was written for Catherine Tait, the instigator of the whole disc, and is a concise three-movement work. Though Mamlok embeds a little abstract cradlesong – inspired by the birth of Tait’s child – what one most recalls of the sonata is the rather austere and cerebral restraint of the opening movement marked With fluctuating tension. From My Garden (1983) is serial – and still – and Designs, much the earliest of the trio of her works recorded here, is in turn angular and jagged and in the Capriccioso second movement, frantic. She’s more rewarding when introspective than motoric and abrasive.

Louise Talma was French-born, in Arcachon in 1906 and she too came to America when young, studying music history with Charles Seeger and composition with Nadia Boulanger for many years. She has written two textbooks in addition to her numerous compositions. Her 1962 single movement sonata is multi-sectional and was written for Boulanger on her 65th birthday. Moving through rhythmic and emotive stages there are moments of rippling momentum as of elegiac intensity; most impressive are the veiled hints of nostalgia and Tait’s broadening and quickening vibrato in response to the deeper journeying of the music. There’s elfin drama and a most sensitive coda. I found it by far the most sympathetic work on the disc.

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Sonata in Three Movements was composed during 1973-74. Zwilich was born in Miami and was the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in music - in 1983 for her Symphony No 1. A student of Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions she also studied the violin under the famous pedagogue Ivan Galamian, later playing in the American Symphony Orchestra under Stokowski. Lasting about nine minutes the sonata is an attractive work with a particularly kinetic, brittle and pizzicato-aerated drive in the finale. Ruth Crawford, known to some as Crawford Seeger, is represented by her tough and sinewy 1926 sonata. It’s full of dissonance in the opening movement and a wayward Scriabin influence haunts the third – marked Mistico – full of complex unease. There’s certainly nothing easy or restful about the rhetoric and little that’s immediately likeable, if that’s your measure of its success.

The performances are as committed as Tait’s own sleeve notes (which are helpful and full), and Barry Snyder is an understanding accompanist. I’ve been searching for a glib adjective to sum up the disc and have decided on "bracing".

Jonathan Woolf

 

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