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Beth ANDERSON (b.1950)
March Swale (2000) [5.26]
Pennyroyal Swale (1985) [9.41]
New Mexico Swale (1995) [10.23]
The Angel (1988) [13.52]
January Swale (1996) [5.45]
Rosemary Swale (1986) [7.45]
Piano Concerto (1997) [13.30]
Rubio String Quartet (all except New Mexico where they appear minus Dirk Van de Velde, first violin); Andrew Bolotowsky (fl/picc), David Rozenblatt (percussion); Gary M Schneider (conductor) (New Mexico); Jessica Narsten (sop) (Angel); Joseph Kubera (piano), Darren Campbell (string bass), David Rozenblatt (percussion); Gary M Schneider (conductor) (Concerto).
rec. 20-21 Nov 2003, Studio C, Mirror Image, NYC. DDD
NEW WORLD RECORDS 80610-2 [56.22]


Another unfamiliar name makes a confident appearance. Perhaps you have heard of Beth Anderson. I hadn't. I was pleased, though, to be introduced to this Schubertian music which surprises by its fidelity to the Olympian style and then startles with its modernistic divagations.

As you can see she favours a ‘form’ or ‘idea’ she calls the ‘Swale’. According to my dictionary a Swale is a shady spot, a sunken or marshy place. Anderson uses the word in the sense of a meadow or marsh in which many plants grow together. Both the music and the idea recall for me the image of Warlock’s In an arbour green or perhaps some sun and shade dappled intimate clearing in the woods - a haunt of classical figures - nymphs, satyrs, fauns and hamadryads.

The March Swale takes us into the warm and pensive lambency of the Schubert String Quintet yet twists ideas and phrases in unusual directions; perhaps a touch of Rochberg and even Crumb here. The Pennyroyal Swale is English idyllic yet mixes in Appalachian fiddling. Listen out for the blissful Dvorakian bowing at 2.39. Anderson also brings in music that might have been written by Howells or RVW in their sunniest moods - from 3.40 onwards.

The New Mexico Swale moves us into a larger span of music. The character is marked out by the presence of percussion interjections throughout. Some are clamant; many are subtle. This is a very different piece from the other two Swales. Intended to evoke the lonely deserts of that State, her typical Schubertian lyricism is mixed with native Indian dance rhythms punctuated by percussion.

For track four we come to The Angel which is a song whose words follow the Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name. The blessedly gentle Schubertian melos (by now clearly an Anderson hallmark) is sometimes modified by modernistic gestures and Tchaikovskian highlights, but more often pretty much unalloyed. The Russian flavour is touched in by the harp. This spiritual melos provides a lush backdrop to Jessica Marston's Steber-like youthful clarity. The idyllic and extremely exposed melisma of 4.00 onwards is poetically handled by Marston even if a certain hardness obtrudes as the voice comes under greater pressure. The poem sets sentimental verses by Antonio Calabrese. Well worth hearing.

Then comes January Swale in which the contemporary accents that appear in March Swale are absent. This represents the heart-easing facility Beth Anderson shares with Dvořák and Howells without the almost erotic-ecstatic tendency of Howells chamber music. Rosemary Swale takes more towards Holst's music for Brook Green and St Paul - very direct and honest, singing and rhythmically pointed.

The 1997 Piano Concerto is for solo piano and six instrumental players. It has the ingenuous naivety of a sampler with Nyman's lyrical touch (as in his own Piano Concerto). This is all gently tuneful - even hymnal as at 2.44. If at times I wondered about how the percussion interjections melded with the character of the rest of the music the resulting tension does intrigue and holds the interest. This is undemonstrative, thoughtful and discursive in nature. The piece ends in a buzzing Vaughan Williamsy atmosphere resolving into a momentary exquisite high gleam.

None of these pieces scream at you or perturb in any obvious way. They seem to be the voice of placid invocation; passive, contented yet mind-engaging.

Appreciation of the music is heightened by Kyle Gann's note. The listener benefits from his wide frame of reference and will come away wondering about the music of other composers as well as other pieces by Beth Anderson.

The Rubio who recently recorded the complete Shostakovich quartets for Brilliant Classics play feelingly throughout as do all the artists involved.

This is a well-documented disc, authoritatively produced and rather warmly recorded but then warmth is characteristic of this music.

Rob Barnett

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