> David Loeb - Yearning for Autumn [GH]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Yearning For Autumn
David LOEB (born 1939)
Chamber Music from Japan:-

Ganya for sho and viola da gamba;
Between The Sea And Sky for three guitars;
Ancient Legends for Violin and piano;
Fantasias For The Japanese Consort for viol consort;
Seiya for voice and qin;
Yoru Ga Mau for flutes, koto and guitar
No recording details given
VIENNA MODERN MASTERS VMM 2035 [63.48]



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This is apparently the third disc on this label devoted to the music of David Loeb. See also VMM 2029 (Echoes from Bronze Bells) and VMM 2033 (Imagined Landscapes).

David Loeb is American and he spells out his biography clearly in the booklet notes, which he has written. He writes that he was trained conventionally in New York and then in 1964 he started composing "for early instruments (especially the viols) and composing for East Asian instruments (mostly Japanese). Inevitably these activities have influenced my compositions in more conventional media, in some cases quite intentionally". He adds later "I have remained unaffected by the peculiar succession of stylistic preoccupations which have characterized much late twentieth century music".

This CD presents us with Loeb’s interests and work. Its title though is misleading. The music was not really composed in Japan (although the composer’s wife in Japanese and he regularly visits the country), but was inspired by Japan, Japanese artists, Japanese instruments, and Japanese culture. All of the performers are Japanese.

Two of the pieces combine Japanese and western instruments, one piece is sung and three have Japanese images or traditions as points of departure.

I had at first wondered if I might be encountering another Alan Hovhaness whose inspiration was Armenia and Asia. Hovhaness can draw a listener into his individual soundworld quite easily. Loeb is, I’m afraid much harder work.

The most ethnic piece if I may call it that, is ‘Seiya’ for voice and Qin performed by the amazing Ryoko Niikura. Confusingly this is more Chinese than Japanese. The poet wrote in Chinese and the Qin is a Chinese instrument. It is difficult to believe that this piece is not ancient music and this did lead me to fret about the whole CD. An American composer besotted with another country writing music totally in the language of that country. I found this and possibly still do a worry. My faith was regenerated a little by ‘Yoru ga Mau’ for the fascinating combination of shakuhachi, flute, koto and guitar tuned in an unconventional manner. Mixing traditional instruments from Japan with western ones was also attempted by Takemitsu in several works, not least ‘November Steps’ (Philips 432 176-2) but Loeb, I feel, blends his material more successfully. Although Asian techniques are used, quarter-tones, slides, pentatonic passages, modality and two-part counterpoint appear. There is also an attempt to come almost half-way towards the western listener with its sonorities and rhythms. In the Lento third movement there is even a hint of the blues. This is an enjoyable piece which I have heard a number of times.

Less easy to pin down is ‘Ancient Legends’ for violin and piano. Again a Japanese soundworld is evoked by the use of scale, melody and glissandi but I found this work dull, annoying and colourless. The only faster music is in the shortest movement, the third, whilst the two preceding slower ones seem rambling and formless.

The disc opens with ‘Ganya’ for sho (which sounds a little like a piano accordion) and viola da gamba. This did interest me but mostly because I felt that it could be more successful as a piece of incidental music. It is difficult to find pattern and form in this piece. I know that it’s as much my problem as anything else but the composer does not help. I realize that you must listen to the sounds from beginning to end enjoying each movement in time as a colour or a pattern and at a moment decided by the composer the sound landscape will end.

The set of Fantasias, subtitled "Japanese Bells" for viol consort mix a renaissance type counterpoint with Japanese scales and textures in a highly successful manner. This is especially true of the last of its five movements which was inspired by some "extremely energetic and vigorous music found at the northern tip of Japan."

So this is a curious disc; a unique one in many ways. To conclude I would have to say that there are many fascinating things about it and many frustrating ones. I am not sure if the music will grow on me but it is music from which to draw some inspiration and which could be a talking point in classes with young music students.

Gary Higginson


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