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Philip RHODES (b. 1940)
Visions of Remembrance (1)
Museum Pieces for Clarinet and String Quartet (2)
Autumn Settings for Soprano and String Quartet (3)
Divertimento for Small Orchestra (4)
Carole Wilson (soprano) (1)
Lorraine Manz (mezzo-soprano) (1)
Phyllis Bryn-Julson (soprano) (3)
James Livingston (clarinet) (2)
Carleton Contemporary Ensemble/William Wells (1)
The Louisville String Quartet (2)
Speculum Musicae String Quartet (3)
St. Paul Chamber Orchestra/Dennis Russell Davies (4)
Recorded March, 1979, Carleton Concert Hall, Northfield, Minnesota, USA (1); 1974 (2); 1973 (3); 1974 (4)
CRI CD758 [62.25]

Philip Rhodes is an American composer, born in North Carolina and currently composer in residence and professor at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota. This disc from Composers Recordings Inc. re-issues a number of Rhodes’ works which were originally issued on vinyl disk.

‘Visions of Remembrance’ is a four-movement song cycle which explores the themes of reminiscence and memory. The first movement, ‘Flashback’ uses a poem by Douglas Worth which evokes a distant memory of a happy childhood summer. Rhodes evokes the uncertainty of memory by surrounding the vocal with an evocative and attractive instrumental aura. Rather than a single singer, the work uses two – soprano, Carole Wilson and mezzo, Lorraine Manz - thus usefully giving two different perspectives of memory with the voices of the two singers hauntingly intertwining. The second movement is, I think, intended to be a more comic/amusing diversion. ‘Grown-up relatives’ uses a text by the composer’s 12 year-old daughter, Anna Jean. The text itself is a delightful, child’s eye view of visiting relatives and Rhodes gives it a perky and pointed instrumental accompaniment, complete with ‘funny’ noises. But Wilson and Manz’s delivery is so portentous that it robs the piece of any lightness; added to this, neither singer has ideal diction nor is able to deliver the text with the clarity it deserves. The final two songs, ‘My Grandmother’s letters’ to a text by Hart Crane and ‘Piano and Epilogue’ to texts by D.H Lawrence and the composer, return to the moods of the opening song.

Rhodes voice is modernist and expressionist, his vocal lines are expressive though usually lacking in strictly tuneful melody and his effective accompaniments are anchored in some sort of tonality. In his writing for the instruments he evokes a lovely sound-world which parallels the themes of memory and remembrance in the text.

‘Museum Pieces’ is a suite of six pieces for clarinet and string quartet each of which is designed to evoke a work of art from the J. B. Speed Art Museum of Louisville. The museum commissioned the work for the inauguration of their new music room. The first movement is a furioso where the upward surge of the clarinet is designed to describe the rearing form of horse and rider in an equestrian bronze statue. The writing is furious and hard edged and the strings sound rather strenuous but there is a contrast with a middle section for unaccompanied clarinet. This is followed by a lighter waltz, based on music from Gounod’s Faust, to conjure up a 19th century pierrot music box. This opens with pure pastiche but the music, rather charmingly, keeps going ‘wrong’. Seurat’s tiny landscape is evoked by string harmonics in an appropriately short movement with wispy clarinet phrases. A more substantial movement includes a reference to a chorale for a 19th century ‘Station of the Cross’ by Theodore Chasseriau; musically this is cast as a rondo and variations. This very expressionist movement is intense and quite stressful. In contrast, a short, fast movement evokes Picasso’s ‘Le Bouquet’, ostensibly using relationships between sound and colour. Finally a Flemish bacchanal gives rise to a movement marked giocoso, but the resulting orgy of excess is rather hard-edged and not very luscious. These are a charming group of modernist character pieces, confidently played by James Livingston and the Louisville String Quartet but the strenuous performance rather lacks that element of surface elegance which characterised ‘Visions of Remembrance’. I did wonder if the original listeners, with their recent memory of the originals, might have found the music more attention-grabbing than listeners coming to the music without any visual input.

‘Autumn Setting’ for soprano and string quartet returns to the evocative expressionistic sound-world of the opening cycle. Here Phyllis Bryn-Julson sings the three songs based on poems by Patricia Schneider. In the cycle Rhodes attempts to play with our concept of time as the poet dimly remembers summer from a gloomy autumn. The stillness of the 2nd movement is intended to hint at the suspension of time and in the final song, Rhodes interleaves settings of two poems. Bryn-Julson is powerful and expressive and the music’s wide tessitura gives her no problems though there are times where the music veers towards vocalise, so few words do we hear. In style the music varies between the lyrical, ethereal setting and spiky leaps. Bryn-Julson gives a truly bravura performance of a difficult part. As in the previous piece, the string accompaniment sounds rather stressful.

The disc concludes with a short three-movement work for chamber orchestra; it is, in fact, the only piece of absolute music on the disc. A modernist character piece, it successfully evokes memories of Webern’s music, though the writing is generally more melodic. It is confidently played by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra under Dennis Russell Davies.

This disc makes a fine showcase for some of Rhodes’ medium-to-small size chamber pieces all given in fine, confident performances. The modernist works on this disc also make an interesting comparison with Rhodes’ disc of folk-inspired pieces, ‘With a Mountain View’.

This is a CD reissue which enables a new audience to hear some fine recordings which were in danger of languishing on vinyl disc. But I did have one stray heretical thought, arising from my own experiences of assembling music for discs: are we hearing the very best of Philip Rhodes or are we hearing the pieces which best fitted the economics of music-making and record producing? Whatever the answer, I look forward to more of his music.
Robert Hugill


From the New World Records Website

CRI Update

March 2004

We are pleased to announce that the catalogue of Composers Recordings, Inc. will become a permanent part of New World Records. We expect that the process of integrating such a large and prestigious catalogue will take some time. As New World Records and Composers Recordings, Inc. are both public foundations, this transfer first must be approved by the New York State Attorney General's office. That process has begun. When approved, and after the Trustees of both organizations formally ratify the transfer, New World Records will begin offering titles that were originally released on CRI. We are committed to keeping every title active in our catalogue and available at all times.

In the meantime, CRI titles are still available for purchase from:

Qualiton Imports
24-02 40th Avenue
Long Island City, NY 11101
Tel. 718.937.8515
Fax 718.729.3239

We expect a smooth transition from the liquidation of the remaining CRI inventory to the creation and introduction of new versions of the titles in the CRI catalogue. We do not expect any interruption in the availability of any title. Please check back to this page periodically for updates on our progress.

If you have a specific question please direct it to me.

Paul Tai
Director of Artists and Repertory

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