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Phillip Rhodes Website

Phillip RHODES (b. 1940)
With A Mountain View

Two Appalachian Settings for String Quartet (Love Song; Fiddle Tunes (No. 2)) ¹
Mountain Songs (A Ballad Cycle) for High Voice and Piano ²
Fiddletunes (No. 1) (for Solo Violin and Synthesised Strings) º
Reels and Reveries (Variations for Orchestra) ³
Veblen String Quartet ¹
Hector Valdivia, violin º
Phyllis Bryn-Julson, soprano ²
Anne Mayer, piano ²
Owensboro Symphony Orchestra ³
Michael Luxner, conductor ³
Recorded at Carleton Concert Hall, Northfield, Minnesota, June 6th 2000 ¹, October 31st 1976 ², March 20th 2001 º, and at RiverPark Center, Owensboro, Kentucky, October 3rd 1992.
CENTAUR CRC 2597 [63.40]

 

This is a superb introduction to the music of American composer Phillip Rhodes. Born into "a family deeply rooted in the traditions of the Appalachian mountains", Rhodes' works are steeped in his musical upbringing, incorporating and often radically transforming many references to the folk music of his indigenous rural locale. These in turn are often descended from the English, Scottish and Irish traditions. Lovers of the folk music of these islands and those composers (VW, Holst, Moeran etc.) who also drank heavily from that particular wellspring of inspiration will find much here to both delight and comfort.

My previous favourite on the Centaur label was a disc of Charles Ives' string quartets and the opening work here can fully withstand comparison; the Love Song in particular is six minutes of sheer beauty, a set of variations on Black Is The Colour of My True Love's Hair, which brings to mind Wayne Barlow's idyllic Winter's Past. Fiddle Tunes appears both here and later in its reworked guise for violin and synthesised strings, again invoking folk tunes (this time Blackberry Blossom and Teetotaller), with a "quote", enthusiastically explained in the composer's notes, from The Rite of Spring. It has to be said though that most of the music on this disc evokes not Russian or even Appalachian springs but ones rather closer to home.

The recording of Mountain Songs is much older than the remainder of the disc and features the talents of celebrated soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson. The texts are traditional but the music, other than Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, is Rhodes' own. All of this cycle is seldom less than great but Jehovah is a towering achievement. A million miles from the tub-thumping setting we know from performances on Songs of Praise, and by Welsh male voice choirs etc., this version is a spine-chilling Gaelic lament. It is the most outstanding piece on an outstanding disc and demands to be heard - to call it transcendent is not an exaggeration. After this, Fiddletunes (No. 2), for violin and synthesised strings has a lot to live up to and doesn't quite manage it but Rhodes has another tour-de-force waiting at the end of the disc. Reels and Reveries is again, to these ears anyway, a masterpiece - from the Coplandesque hoe-downs to the Vaughan Williams style modal and pentatonic meditations and the exuberant finale, in which the orchestra gamely sings verses from Cluck Ol' Hen(!), this performance, coughs and all, recorded live by WNIM-FM radio station, documents the existence of something very special.

If, like me, your ideal soundworld lies somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, between, say, Roy Harris and E.J. Moeran, then you will cherish the majority of the music contained herein. I cannot recommend this highly enough.


Neil Horner

 



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