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Ned ROREM (b.1923)
Nine Episodes for Four Players (2004) [22:08]
Dances (1983) [13:51]
Spring Music (1990) [24:08]
Contrasts Quartet: (Ayako Oshima (clarinet); Monica Bauchwitz (violin); Ariane Lallemand (cello); Evelyne Luest (piano))
rec. July 2004. DDD
PHOENIX USA PHCD 163 [67:38]

Two works receive their world premier on this disc of chamber pieces by Ned Rorem: Dances scored for cello and piano, and Nine Episodes for Four Players. Spring Music was written for the Beaux Arts Trio and recorded by them on Philips 438 866-2. More on the Beaux Arts performance of Spring Music in a moment. Roremís career has been a remarkably fruitful one, made less out of grand symphonic gestures (three symphonies, four concertos), but of shorter, more lyrically framed gestures in the form of art songs, over five hundred at last count. Indeed, Roremís symphonies, particularly the justly famous Third Symphony (1958), are mostly made up of songlike statements that translate well either tonally, in the symphonies, or atonally, in his songs and his chamber pieces, particularly the works gathered on this disc.
This should not be off-putting to the listener unfamiliar with Rorem. Roremís forays into atonality are actually more of the conservative Bergian kind, with hints of French wistfulness. This is particularly true of Dances where you can hear the cello sing to the pianoís occasionally wonky in-and-out cadences. Rorem writes in clear declarative statements Ė something he has in common with the more tonal writer, Roy Harris - and because of the simplicity of his language, his arguments, whether tonal or atonal, are quite lucid. Whether a listener comes to like this music is always a matter of personal choice but itís not hard to understand. As such, Roremís music often has a kind of clarity thatís frequently missing from the music of composers of his generation.
What makes Nine Episodes for Four Players stand out here is the physical artistry of the Contrasts Quartet. Ayako Oshima brings a flirtiness to this music that instills it with considerable humor; a trait Rorem inherits from Messiaen. Also of considerable merit here is the recording ambience itself. The notes do not say where this was recorded, but the miking tracks each of the instruments precisely. The cello fairly resonates with warmth and the clarinetís crisp upper register notes - sounding almost flute-like - hang suspended almost like snowflakes. Rorem, ever the songmeister, lets each instrument take its turn singing.
A more intimate conversation between cello and piano occurs in Dances. The seven pieces - none are over four minutes in length - move briskly with touches of satire here and there. Listen for example to the odd, slightly drunken waltz in Valse Rapellťe, the third dance. But, again, Roremís hallmark is his ability to bring out the intimacy of an instrument Ö or a voice.
Lastly, Spring Music (1990). This had an earlier recording with the Beaux Arts Trio who take the first and third movements at a much slower pace. The Beaux Arts groupís performance is much more meditative than the one by the Contrasts Quartet. The faster pace might reflect aspects of ďspringĒ - at least according to Roremís own notes - but large passages remain privately characterized and a bit remote. Still, these are works that reflect a distillation of Roremís understanding of tonalities - how they play off one another, how they can nonetheless be made to sing.
Paul Cook


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Vol. 1 Poems Of Love And The Rain/Four Madrigals/From An Unknown Past PHCD 108†
Vol. 2 Scenes/Five Songs/Four Dialogues PHCD116
Vol. 3 Day Music/Night Music PHCD123
Vol. 4 Ariel, Gloria, King Midas PHCD126
Vol. 5 Nine Episodes For Four Players/Dances PHCD163


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