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Capstone Records

Phillip SCHROEDER (b. 1956)
Turning to the Center

An Offering (1999-2000)
From Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar (2000)
Turning to the Center (2001)
Robert Best, baritone and percussion
Tamara Raatz, clarinet and bass clarinet
Phillip Schroeder, piano and synthesiser
Rec. Harwood Recital Hall, Russell Fine Arts Center, Henderson State University, Arkansas, July 16th - 20th 2001.

Songs of My Affinities
Eight Songs on Poems by Ogden Nash (1996)
Spirits of the Dead (1999)
Songs of My Affinities (1998)
The Infinite in Repose (2002)
Robert Best, baritone
Steven Becraft, clarinet
Stephen Feldman, cello
Rick Dimond, percussion
Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi, piano
Phillip Schroeder, synthesiser
Rec. Harwood Recital Hall, Russell Fine Arts Center, Henderson State University, Arkansas, May 22nd - 24th and 26th - 29th 2003.


Contemporary American composer Phillip Schroeder impressed me with his excellent All Rivers At Once disc, which focused on his instrumental muse. This pair of discs devoted to vocal settings is equally attractive and stimulating, while, perhaps inevitably, bringing a slightly more traditional/conventional element to the fore. As well as the composer's own keyboard contributions, the common feature here is the grateful baritone of Robert Best, ideally suited to these often self-effacing but evocative pieces. The choice of texts is, on both selections, almost as visionary in its own way as the texts themselves. I was particularly taken with the juxtaposition of Whitman, Twain and Rumi on Turning to the Center. All hark back to a more intelligent, more intuitive and less materialistic/dogmatic phase in their respective cultural histories. Whitman's inspired muse is much beloved in America and beyond, as aficionados of Delius, VW and Holst will be well aware. Twain's freedom of an American (Pudd'nhead!) to laugh at himself and his fellow Americans in a (semi) reverential way is perhaps too close to the bone these days but all power to Schroeder for having the gall to set it:-

"It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things; freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence to practice either of them"

While the Whitman and Twain settings are of a fairly spare clarinet and piano accompanied cast, the Rumi piece has a definite kinship with the ambient/improv/jazz leanings of All Rivers At Once, and demonstrates the flowing, ebbing and eddying nature of this highly organic music.

Songs of My Affinities is perhaps an even more accomplished effort than Turning to the Center, with some additional instrumentation, e.g. cello, and the pointed humour of the terse Ogden Nash settings and the gloom ridden (how else could it be, as American Gothic goes?) Edgar Allen Poe's Spirits of the Dead, contrasting with the more expected transcendence of the Whitman and Emerson pieces. For this listener, Schroeder seems more at home with Poe than Nash. However, like Ives and Rorem, his forte appears to lie with the superlative and undeniably visionary age of American East Coast literature. The beautiful closing Emerson setting, a duet between the baritone of Best and the composer's synthesised accompaniment, provides a magnificent conclusion. I look forward, very much, to being reacquainted in future with this composer's activities. Admittedly, the creative star of John Adams (with whom there are similarities, in the fondness for popular music and jazz, use of synthesisers etc) burns somewhat brighter. These discs come highly recommended nonetheless.

Neil Horner

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