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Fred RZEWSKI (b. 1938)
Pocket Symphony (2000) [27:38]
Les Moutons de Panurge (1969) [11:38]
Coming Together arr. Matt Albert (1971) [18:51]
Eighth Blackbird (Molly Alicia Barth (flutes); Michael J Maccaferri (clarinets); Matt Albert (violin/narration); Nicholas Photinos (cello); Matthew Duvall (percussion); Lisa Kaplan (piano))
rec. Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, 14-17 July 2002, 28 Oct 2004. DDD
CEDILLE CDR 90000 084 [58:30]


Cedille do what they do so well. Here in a disc that kicks most of the classical orthodoxies we get three works by Massachusetts-born, Brussels-resident Rzewski. They are ardently and professionally presented by Eighth Blackbird (try - an ensemble of six musicians.

I had better make it clear - although it will probably be obvious - that this is the first Rzewski I have heard.

The movements of the Pocket Symphony are designated A, B, C, D, E, F. The music certainly does not feel symphonic in the senses we absorb from hearing symphonies by Rubbra or Sibelius or Beethoven. The textures are transparent; the music is dramatic, dreamily coaxing yet flighty as small ensemble Prokofiev or Stravinsky. Instruments stand alone in solos and become reflective and scatty. There is a feeling of a sort of developmental spontaneity. Indeed Rzewski, in his printed interview with the musicians, stresses the importance of that ingredient. The most broken-backed fragmentation comes in the atomised jazziness of section E. The work is recorded with stunning impact yet with plenty of air and space. This is heard most fluently in the breathy, dripping, rumbling and liquidly babbling ‘temple’ that is section F.  

Les Moutons de Panurge is a reference to sheep and jumping on bandwagons. It's from Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel. Rzewski has here produced a piece of nervy, incessantly chipping and chiming optimistic minimalism. It is laced with rumba and gamelan. This must have gone down well with Louis Andriessen and the others who attended the premiere given at the Concertgebouw in the 1970s by Franz Bruggen's ensemble Sour Cream.

Coming Together: Over a baritonally rippling piano and then vibraphone accompaniment, a male narrator quietly and musingly intones the words on a perpetual loop. What is read repeatedly is the text of a letter by Sam Melville at the time when he was incarcerated in Attica prison. There was an insurrection among the prisoners which was put down with mortal force. Melville was one of those killed. This is the most yielding of the Rzewski pieces here and packs a potent impact. The instrumental ‘bed’ extends to take in all members of the ensemble and other members join the narration with mosaic scintilla. Polemic and protest in minimalist garb rise at the very end to vehemence, pain and torment - all hoarsely wretched-out. The letter is addressed 'to dear brother' and reaches to the listener across the decades.

Well presented and superbly recorded by Cedille, the liner notes are in the form of a folded poster rather than the usual mini-booklet.

Two minimalist pieces still packing the shattering punch of their thirty-plus year old agenda coupled with a fully confident aural fantasy-mural.

Rob Barnett







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