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North/South Recordings

Larry BELL (b. 1952)
The Book of Moonlight Op.31 (1987/8)a [22:32]
In Memory of Roger Sessions Op.29 (1986/7) [9:21]
Four Pieces in Familiar Style Op.41 (1995) [8:21]
Just As I Am Op.62 (2002)a [11:51]
Late Night Thoughts Op.35 (1991)b [16:11]
Sleep Song Op.18 (1984)a [2:40]
Ayano Ninomiya (violin); Steve McConnell (narrator)b; Larry Bell (piano)ab
Recorded: New England Conservatoryís Jordan Hall, June 2002 (The Book of Moonlight, In Memory of Roger Sessions, Four Pieces, Sleep Song) and June 2003 (Just As I Am, Late Night Thoughts)


Larry Bellís The Book of Moonlight Op.31 is, according to the composerís words, "a set of nocturnes that refer to other music, both popular and classical, that centre round the theme of moonlight". Incidentally, the title is taken from a poem by Wallace Stevens ("The book of moonlight is not written yet nor half begun"). As is often the case in Bellís music, the composer draws on various sources as basic material for his own compositions. In this case, a melody Carolina Moon (written when the composer was fifteen), a song by John Lennon (Mr. Moonlight) as well as allusions to a piece by Sessions, Beethovenís Mondschein Sonata and to "hoe-down fiddle music". This fairly large-scale piece for violin and piano actually consists of two large outer sections separated by a short interlude; and the whole, however, is remarkably held together, for all the basic materialís diversity. The first section On Approaching Carolina (in three shorter sections) thus quotes Bellís own tune as well as John Lennonís and Sessionsí. The interlude Mondschein appropriately alludes to Beethoven and a fragment from the Mondschein Sonata is woven into the accompaniment. The third section On Leaving Carolina (also in three shorter sections) revisits what the composer describes as "hoe-down fiddle music" followed by an Italian serenade of some sort before a final restatement of the opening tune.

In earlier reviews of discs of Bellís music, I mentioned (I think) that he studied Ė among others Ė with Roger Sessions. So, In Memory of Roger Sessions Op.29 was written a few months after Sessionsí death. It is a short suite for solo violin in three movements : Elegy (a rhapsodic fantasy based on a theme from Sessionsí opera Montezuma), Parody (a scherzo of some sort and a real compositional tour de force quoting from nine works of Sessions, and all over in less than three minutes!) and Dialogue (an imagined conversation between Sessions and Bell, whose names are spelled as musical themes, and one in which Sessions has the last word!)

Just As I Am Op.62 is a short piece for violin and piano in two movements (Risoluto and Scorevolle) based on an old Southern hymn, a fragment of which is stated Lontano to introduce the first movement (this has a slightly archaic tinge) and restated Lontano as a short peaceful coda.

Four Pieces in Familiar Style Op.41 is a short suite of four duos for two violins (played here by the same player) that may be compared to Bartòkís own Duos, i.e. as didactic pieces for younger players. I hope that they may be as popular as Bartòkís work.

Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahlerís Ninth Symphony Op.35 (to give it its full title) is a piece for violin/narrator and piano that may of course be performed (as here) by a narrator, a violinist and a pianist. (To some extent, I think that it might be preferable this way.) The text is drawn from the eponymous essay by Lewis Thomas ruminating on diverse subjects such as war, death and music. The author comments on Mahlerís Ninth Symphony, but also on Brahms and Beethoven so that the music includes a number of quotes from and allusions to the music of these composers as well as from a piece by Larry Bell (The Idea of Order at Key West Op.13, a concerto for soprano, violin and orchestra composed in 1981). The music is based on the opening measures of the final movement of Mahlerís Ninth Symphony. This intensely serious and honest piece, however, does somewhat outstay its welcome (i.e. as far as this writer is concerned) because it deals with very serious concerns that possibly should have deserved a more in-depth treatment. Incidentally, Bellís also composed another piece including a narrator (The Black Cat Op.28 Ė narrator, cello and piano) that may ultimately be more satisfying just because it simply tells a story. This is nevertheless a quite substantial work, and one that certainly tell us much about Bellís love of Mahlerís music (he did so again later in his trio Mahler in Blue Light Op.43 for alto saxophone, cello and piano some time later).

This generously filled release of Bellís music for violin is rounded off by the simple, straightforward and delightful lullaby Sleep Song Op.18.

As I have repeatedly noted in earlier reviews, Larry Bellís music is superbly crafted, always well written for the instruments, straightforward and utterly communicative. All these pieces fit that description, and the disc as a whole is very enjoyable indeed, especially when the music is played with so much conviction and commitment as here. The recording may be a bit too close for some tastes, but nothing serious enough to deter anyone from enjoying it.

Hubert Culot

see also

Larry BELL (born 1952) The Black Cat Op.28 (1987)a Caprice for Solo Cello Op.12 (1978)b Fantasia on an Imaginary Hymn Op.17 (1983/4)c River of Ponds Op.5 (1986)d Robert J. Lurtsema (narrator)a; Sarah Clarke (viola)c; Eric Bartlett (cello)abcd; Larry Bell (piano)ad Recorded: WGBH-FM Radio, Boston, April 1998 (The Black Cat); Unitarian Church, Montclair, NJ, May 1998 (Caprice, Fantasia); SUNY Purchase Recital Hall, Purchase, NJ, May 1998 (River of Ponds) NORTH/SOUTH RECORDINGS R 1018 [69:20] [HC]

Contemporary, though very tuneful and warmly lyrical, and very accessible. A very fine, enjoyable release on all counts.... see Full Review

MUSIC FROM SIX CONTINENTS Ė 1992 SERIES - Paul MORAVEC (born 1957) Spiritdance (1989) - Ann SILSBEE (born 1930) Sanctuary (1991) - Jerré TANNER (born 1939) Suite from The Singing Snails (1986) - Larry BELL (born 1952) Sacred Symphonies Op.23 (1985) Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra of Bratislava/Szymon Kawalla - Recorded: no date, published 1992 VIENNA MODERN MASTERS VMM 3016 [71:29] [HC]

A most enjoyable disc well worth investigating. Ö see Full Review

MUSIC FROM SIX CONTINENTS Ė 1996 SERIES - Thomas M. SLEEPER (born 1956) Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra (1992)a - Margaret Shelton MEIER (born 1936) The Dawning (1994)b - Haydn REEDER (born 1944) Lark 2 (1996) - Larry BELL (born 1952) Piano Concerto Op.33 (1989)c Kathryn Sleeper (bassoon)a; Bozhena Petrova (celesta)b; Larry Bell (piano)c; The Ruse Philharmonic Orchestra, Bulgaria; Tsanko Delibozov, Thomas Sleeper - Recorded: no information available, published 1996 VIENNA MODERN MASTERS VMM 3037 [64:39] [HC]

An interesting disc with two substantial, if uneven works and two shorter, attractive pieces, all in fine performances Ö see Full Review

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