> Ingram MARSHALL Kingdom Come 7559796132 [TH]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ingram MARSHALL (b.1942)
Kingdom Come (1997)

The American Composer’s Orchestra
Robin Lustig Dunkel (conductor)
Hymnodic Delays (1997)

The Theatre of Voices
Paul Hillier (director)
Fog Tropes II (1993) for String Quartet and Tape
Kronos Quartet
Recorded at various venues 1996 – 2000
NONESUCH 7559 – 79613 – 2 [47.09]


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Ingram Marshall is a composer who refuses to be categorised. He feels strongly that too many convenient ‘tags’ are placed upon artists simply to make discussions of art easier; he resists attempts to lump him together with minimalists (itself a term purloined from the visual arts), downtowners, New Romanticists or the "California School". In fact he is on record as saying, 'I hope my music is remembered for its personality rather than its style or historical position … I feel strongly now that music always points to something else, has other meanings, and in that sense I am an ‘ expressivist’'

These comments are interesting in the light of the present disc, which probably represents the best of his current aesthetic.

Anyone familiar with the ‘younger’ end of contemporary American music may well recognise the title of one of these works. The original Fog Tropes comes from 1982 and is probably his most frequently performed and recorded piece, most recently cropping up on an excellent disc entitled ‘American Elegies’ and featuring other works by Ives, Diamond, Feldman and his friend John Adams, who also conducted (Nonesuch 9 79227-2). The piece is essentially an atmospheric, slow-moving tone painting in sound, with the live ensemble (originally brass sextet, reworked for string quartet) underpinned by a taped collage of sounds from the San Francisco Bay area, such as ship’s foghorn, seagulls etc. Where the original was able to exploit the timbral similarities of the brass and foghorns, the new version has sought to highlight the difference in sonority of the taped ‘environment’( kept identical) with the softer qualities of the strings. The result is undeniably effective, even strangely moving.

The title ‘Kingdom Come’ might also be vaguely familiar from an earlier piece called ‘Peaceable Kingdom’, which also shows the composer's love of mixing live instrumentalists with taped sounds from the ‘real’ world. In this case the work has a very personal significance, as it was composed in memory of Francis Tomasic, the composer’s brother-in-law who, while working as a journalist in Bosnia, was killed by a landmine near Mostar. This obviously accounts for so many of the taped sections reflecting that troubled region, with the looping and overlapping of a ‘Serbian’ section (soprano cantor, priest and bells heard at different pitches) and a ‘Croatian’ section (a congregational hymn slowed down to almost a 'rumble’). The resulting collage has a strangely unnerving effect (possibly the intention) with the serene beauty of the singing gradually being overtaken by more ominous sounds. The piece is ‘book-ended’ by a more controversial idea, a quotation from Sibelius’s elegiac tone poem The Swan of Tuonela. Presumably the composer has his own specific reason for using this particular work (he admits to using it before) and certainly the brooding melancholy of that masterpiece suits the mood of his tragic subject, but the listener is brought up short in the wrong way. Marshall’s own (very informative) booklet note states, 'None of these "techniques" should draw attention to themselves…’, but unfortunately using such a well known concert ‘war-horse’ has precisely this effect. Still, the quote is short and is soon overtaken by the first of the taped choir effects, making an undeniable impact.

Hymnodic Delays arose from Marshall’s working relationship with Paul Hillier and his vocal ensemble Theatre of Voices, a relationship that had spawned several compositions, most notably Sierran Songs (on texts by Snyder, Kerouac and others). Hillier suggested that the composer explore the repertory of the New England composers of the 17th and 18th century – "singing masters" – for his source material. The result is a ‘reworking ‘ of four pieces that are given the titles ‘Bright Hour Delayed’ (pun fully intended!), ‘Broad Road’, ‘Swept Away’ and ‘Low Dutch’, and hugely enjoyable it is, with the simple tunes given the full studio treatment (looping, digital delay, echoes etc.). In fact it’s fair to say that the early vocal devices inherent in the originals, such as hocketing (‘hiccups’ in the line), canonic entry, imitation and so forth, respond well to this sort of treatment, and Marshall is careful to say that he doesn’t consider his manipulations to be ‘improvements, but simply elaborations that seek to pay homage to the 'straightforward, honest and often poignantly expressive music of this era’.

The overall standard of presentation is in keeping with what we have come to expect from Nonesuch; the extremely informative liner notes are by the composer, the performances by all the dedicatees flawless, and the recording is in the demonstration bracket (in fact, be warned about your speaker cones during the first tape entry in Kingdom Come!). This is a disc which shows us a composer at his eclectic best, and although his mode of expression has been fashionable in American contemporary music for some time, the pieces on this CD show us the most human and accessible face of this expression.

Tony Haywood


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