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Marc SATTERWHITE (b. 1954)
Epitafio (2001) [9:43]
Witnesses of Time (Four Studies on photographs by Flor Garduño) (2003) [19:47]
Memento Mori I: Red Carnations in White Lace Curtains (1993-95) [10:34]
Concertino a Tre (1995) [19:58]
Paige Morgan (English horn)
Conrad Alexander (Percussion)
The Core Ensemble (Andrew Mark (cello); Hugh Hinton (piano); Michael Parola (percussion)); Kathy Karr (flute); Matthew Karr (bassoon); Joanna Goldstein (piano)
rec. 1996-2004, various locations.
CENTAUR CRC 2816 [60:17]

Marc Satterwhite has had a dual career as a player and composer. He worked for several years as a professional bassist before turning his attention more fully to composing. He is now on the faculty of the University of Louisville, where he teaches music theory and composition. This collection of chamber works spans about a decade of activity.

It is always with regret that I write a review of music in which I find little to praise, but the duties of credibility and integrity always require my complete honesty as well as as much objectivity as I can muster. Alas, this disc is full of the kind of structure-less meandering that I find most maddening, particularly in composers from American academia.

While I am never opposed to dissonance, I do object strongly to noise. Free and improvisatory music has been around forever, but there still must be some sense of thematic development and motivic continuity in a piece to make it hang together. What we have here is the rather typically episodic music that results from hours in front of a computer that would have been better spent behind some instruments learning how they sound which of said instruments sound best together.

Epitafio, a work for English horn and sundry percussion instruments attempts to paint some sort of sound-picture. Whatever mood that the composer intended to create is blown to bits by the utter lack of any memorable thematic material. This is not to say that every work has to have a singable hook, but we should at least be able to latch onto something.

And so it goes for sixty minutes, which in fairness to the efforts of the composer and performers, I forced myself to listen to three times so as not to dash off an impulsive dismissal based on only one hearing.

Perhaps the most maddening is the work for solo cello, Witness of Time. In this the composer seems to make every effort to prove the things that the instrument can do without regard to what it should do. Unlike Bach, Britten or even Kodaly, whose solo cello works exploit the instrument as solo singer and player of polyphony, Satterwhite’s music leaps and lurches, plunging in and out of myriad sound-effects that neither inspire nor attract.

The 1995 Concertino a Tre comes closest to success of any of the works on this recording, this owing mostly to its strong and immediately apparent debt to Stravinsky. Regrettably, such homage is not enough to rescue it.

Centaur is not to be blamed for this one, as their business model is to provide a venue for anyone willing to pay for the privilege of getting his work before the public. This also releases the company from liability for the boxy sound of most of the recordings here. It did, however, take me twenty minutes of research to find the composer’s birth date, which is inexcusable.

The performers are also to be congratulated for making the best out of what must be rather difficult music to execute. All of the performances are competent and professional, and it is evident that each performer is dedicated to excellence.

Kevin Sutton


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