Here are three substantial works in which Pacific ethnic voices
mediate Californian/West Coast mysticism.
is in seven movements. The Estampie - a title beloved
of Martinů and Hovhaness - features coursing string writing
underpinned with percussion; here distanced by the engineers
for best spatial satisfaction. It strongly recalls the equivalent
‘sword-wind’ movements in the Hovhaness Symphonies such as St
Vartan. Then follows a seraphic arcing Chorale 'Et
in arcadia ego' which has a honeyed yet not cloying trail.
Again this offers deeply affecting writing. The stately Ductia
- In honor of Eros, again has the Oriental contours and
percussion punctuation of the Estampie. Lament forgoes
the percussion and, whisper quiet, conducts a sheeny Bergian
pilgrimage through contentment and anxiety. Here the redolences
are of Schuman and Harris. The Round in Honor of Hermes will
again appeal to Hovhaness admirers but Harrison strikes high
into the stratosphere with a burred intrepidity which we would
not hear from Hovhaness. The Little Fugue - Viola's Reward
seems rather cool by comparison: Reger-lite. The Nocturne
rounds out this ambitious suite with a sleep, while coolly
recalling the Lament and Barber's Adagio. Harrison
ends audaciously with a calming downbeat. Deeply impressive!
in a single continuous movement, is by the Cambodian composer
Chinary Ung. He studied with Chou Wen-Chung and George Crumb.
While there are moments of all-purpose modernism with the usual
palette of received wisdoms, there is also a lot that is distinctive.
Try the gleaming episode with its hint of orientalism at 2:03
onwards and the profoundly romantic music at 7:49 with those
groaning string transitions so typical of Roy Harris in his
FolkSong Symphony. A phantasmal tapestry of a piece -
full of invention, promise and fulfilment.
Colin McPhee wrote
more than Tabuh-Tabuhan but it is the piece by which
he is known. It's a Toccata in three movements for two pianos
and orchestra. It is heavily influenced by Gamelan suggested
by the two pianos and by the chattering percussion. He stayed
in Bali with this new wife Jane Belo in the 1930s and it was
on a brief holiday away from the island that he came to write
the piece. It was written at the suggestion of Carlos Chavez
and premiered in Mexico City conducted by Chavez in Summer 1936.
The music reminded me of the archive 78 recordings that Britten
and McPhee made of the Gamelan Anklung. It's an invigorating
work that from our perspective cannot help but remind us of
Philip Glass and the player-piano etudes of Conln Nancarrow.
The central Nocturne provides repose and remission from
the incessancy and clangour of the first. In its winding reflections
it is a precursor to the works of Hovhaness and Cowell. The
Finale recalls Ravel, Copland as well as Hovhaness - try the
DVD-audio disc of the Janabar piano concerto - and
more recent figures such as Nyman. This work should appeal strongly
to you if you enjoy minimalism, want a fresh fix and are happy
to delve back to its roots. The work ends in the decaying shiver
of the tam-tam.
If McPhee interests
you remember that you can probably still track down a complete
MusicMasters Classics CD of his music (01612–67159-2) played
by the Brooklyn Phil directed by the same conductor. The disc
offers the chance to encounter McPhee’s Symphony No. 2, Concerto
for Piano with Wind Octette, Nocturne for Chamber Orchestra
and Balinese Ceremonial Music. Did I mention that
McPhee was born in Montreal? And if you would like to pursue
the Britten connection then look out the BBCSO/Leonard Slatkin
disc of The Prince of the Pagodas suite and Tabuh-Tabuhan