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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Ricardo TACUCHIAN (born 1939)

Toccata Urbana (1999)a
Wayne PETERSON (born 1927)

Janus (1991/2)a
Christopher JAMES (born 1951)

In frostiger Nacht (1999)b
Raoul PLESKOW (born 1931)

Chamber Setting with Voice (1992)c
Gilberto MENDES (born 1922)

Ulysses in Copacabana Surfing with James Joyce and Dorothy Lamour (1988)a
Elizabeth Farnum (soprano)c; Joseph Kubera (piano)b; North/South Chamber Orchestraab; North/South Consonance Ensemblec/Max Lifchitz
Recorded: Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Centre of Purchase College, September 2001

The present release is another telling example of NORTH/SOUTH’s exploration of contemporary American music, both from North and South America, since two composers here are from Brazil. One of them, Gilberto Mendes, is better-known, at least as far as the present writer is concerned, for some of his music is available on a Belgian CD (VOX TEMPORIS CD 92030) devoted to some of Mendes’ recent works including the piece by which he is represented here.

Brazilian-born Ricardo Tacuchian scored his colourful Toccata Urbana for woodwind quartet, string quintet and piano. The title aptly hints at the actual musical content of the piece. This is a brilliant display of virtuoso writing characterised by an energetic rhythmic drive. A very attractive and enjoyable piece of music in its own right.

Wayne Peterson’s Janus for small mixed ensemble is harmonically more astringent and its energy is often expressed in more angular, nervous phrases. As is well known, Janus’s head had two faces, so Peterson’s work also looks backward on his earlier music and forward to some new procedures. Similarly too, the music alternates two main ideas, one fast and somewhat fragmentary, the other broad and lyrical, which are constantly manipulated and varied.

Christopher James’s In frostiger Nacht incorporates material from an earlier setting of Hölderlin’s elegy Diotima composed in 1992. It is a miniature concerto for piano and small mixed ensemble cast in a single-movement structure falling into four contrasting sections. The first section acts as an introduction whereas the second and third movements are more clearly related to Hölderlin’s poem. Resolution is achieved in the final section. On the whole, James’s music is more traditional, overtly alluding to Romantic models of the late 19th Century and including some phrases that sound as direct quotations; but I must admit that I have not been able to identify them. A substantial work, all the same, and well worth having.

Pleskow’s music has already featured in other NORTH/SOUTH releases. This Austrian-born composer was educated in New York and studied with Karl Rathaus and Stefan Wolpe, among others. Chamber Setting with Voice for soprano, violin, cello, flute/piccolo and piano sets four short texts of quite different origin: excerpts from an Ode by Horace, excerpts from Lament by Shelley, an anonymous Incipit from the 13th century in Provençal and four lines from Shakespeare’s Richard III that all "share such autumnal concerns, as night, deploration and melancholy". These brief texts are set in a freely atonal manner well suited to the chosen poems.

A number of Mendes’s works have quite eccentric titles which say very little, if at all, of the musical content. Ulysses in Copacabana Surfing with James Joyce and Dorothy Lamour is one of them. The music uses materials derived from classical and popular sources much in the same way as Joyce’s "stream of consciousness". So, whiffs from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Debussy’s Danseuses de Delphes and Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony as well as popular tunes and rhythms surface here and there throughout the piece which ends with a clear Brazilian touch, on a Bossa nova rhythm. A colourful, fanciful kaleidoscope, and a quite entertaining piece of music. (Oh, yes, I was in love with Dorothy Lamour when I was a teenager!)

As is often the case with similar collections, the variety of styles as well as the varying horizons from which the composers come may be considered as uneven. Nevertheless, all pieces here actually deserve to be heard for each has its qualities and character. The whole is a quite enjoyable collection of accessible works. Excellent performances and very fine recording.

Hubert Culot

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