This disc is a potpourri
of works by the American composer of “new romantic” music Beth
Anderson. Last year a disc of her music called Swales and
Angels received positive reviews in these pages (see links
below) and this new offering is also tuneful and worth while
listening. Anderson’s music is modern in feeling, original and,
according to Kyle Gann in the booklet, is “simulating normalcy”.
The opener, Quilt
Music, gives the disc its title and is an extended work
for solo piano. Presumably a musical version of the artwork
you can see on the front cover, it was commissioned for a group
of dancers. Anderson suggests that there were no rules or inhibitions,
and that only things that seem beautiful to the maker were included.
Obviously one couldn’t dispute the latter part of this contention
but I am a little sceptical about the lack of the rules; is
that a recapitulation I hear towards the end? The influence
of minimalism is fairly clear here - although Kyle Gann assures
us in no uncertain terms it is not minimalist music - but not
in any of the other works on the disc. Quilt Music is
attractive and easy listening which seemed to me to have some
similarity with a set of variations. There is perhaps not quite
enough material or variation - particularly in pace which is
static and moderate throughout - to justify its 24 minutes.
Nevertheless Joseph Kubera makes the most of the phrasing and
dynamics, and is clearly convinced by the work.
There follow three
sets of songs with an emphasis on cats that spills over from
the Cat Songs into Dreaming Fields. The booklet
includes a picture of one - a fearsome looking beast - belonging
to the composer. The idiom here seems familiar – perhaps more
Rorem than Copland though possibly influenced by both. Anderson
finds humour, drama and even pathos amongst these settings and
receives strong advocacy from Keith Borden. He has a slightly
unusual high baritone voice but it suits the music well. Much
as I enjoyed the cats, the Harlem songs are of most interest
with Darren Campbell’s string bass adding “je ne sais quoi”.
Next up is a series
of short pieces for violin and piano - attractive and well-played.
Some of the titles (e.g. Dr. Blood’s Mermaid Lullaby)
are possibly as memorable as the music. Anderson here is at
her least modern and innovative. Cleveland Swale, however,
is remarkable. The booklet suggests that it may be the only
piece ever written for piano and two double basses, and the
combination works surprisingly well. The need for two basses
is most obvious when one is playing arco, the other pizzicato.
This work describes life in Cleveland, Ohio in a “mild” collage
of styles. A tango, hymn tune and fanfare are admitted origins
and the hymn tune sounds to me remarkably like the slow movement
of Haydn’s Emperor Quartet.
seems to be greatest in the various Swales but her other
music is worth exploring. The performances are all committed
and the recorded sound is natural. There is detailed documentation
courtesy of Kyle Gann - who is also a composer - that is often
thought-provoking. I am still getting my head round the concept
of “simulating normalcy” but it has not impaired my enjoyment
of this disc.
Patrick C Waller
Links to reviews of Swales and Angels: