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Charles WUORINEN (b.1938)
Tashi (1975) [30:57]
Percussion Quartet (1994) [18:25]
Fortune (1979) [18:23]
The Group for Contemporary Music (Tashi, Fortune), New Jersey Percussion Ensemble (Quartet)
rec. Recital Hall, State University of New York, Purchase, 13-14 May, 1993 (Tashi); Theater C, State University of New York, 3 June 1996 (Quartet); Recital Hall, State University of New York, Purchase, 17 February, 1993 (Fortune)
NAXOS 8.559321 [67:44]



Three of Charles Wuorinen’s most interesting chamber works are gathered here on a single disc – all in recordings previously issued by Koch International Classics.
 
Two of the pieces – Tashi and Fortune – were originally written for the ensemble called Tashi, a quartet made up of clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Tashi and Fortune form the outer panels of this triptych, as it were, with the Percussion Quartet in the centre.
 
Tashi is in five movements, designated Movement I, Interlude, Movement II, interlude and Movement III. There is a an arch-like symmetry to the work, Movement I being roughly equal in length to Movement III (7:32 to 7:18 in this performance), the two Interludes being of very similar length (both come in at 2:44 here) and Movement II, the central section, is the longest (10:38 in this performance). Though Tashi is a complex work which reveals more with successive listenings, it is by no means forbiddingly inaccessible even at first hearing.
 
The first movement of Tashi is full of energy, full of elaborately worked out counterpoint and intense instrumental dialogue. The succeeding Interlude is a rather more relaxed affair, though having clear affinities, in terms of material, with what has gone before. The central section, Movement II, is particularly fine, generally quieter, less obviously assertive than Movement I, often, indeed, quite lyrical with a distinctive, gentle beauty and a degree of pathos. The second Interlude again picks up on what has preceded it, sustaining a kind of melancholy anticipatory calmness before Movement III returns with renewed energy and propulsion, before settling down, eventually, into a calmer conclusion. The whole makes gripping listening, both colourful instrumentally and engaging at intellectual and emotional levels alike.
 
The Percussion Quartet, dedicated to conductor and percussionist Claire Heldrich, was commissioned by the new Music Consort, New Jersey Percussion Ensemble and the Percussion Group of Cincinnati, is in two movements, the first rather longer than the other. Wuorinen’s work generally has a strong sense of rhythmic impulse, and that is naturally well to the fore here, as ever shifting combinations of percussion instruments (which include timpani, marimbas, vibraphones, tom-toms, bass-drums, cymbals and much else) emerge and dissolve across a more or less continuous forward movement or, rather, movements, given that at several points rhythms are superimposed on one another, without ever losing a sense of direction. The second movement begins with approximations to the rhythms of the dance, rhythms that become less clearly focused in the movement’s middle section, before emerging again, with a kind of renewed vigour at the work’s conclusion.
 
Fortune, commissioned by the City of Bonn for the Beethovenfest of 1980, is in two movements, equal in length, which carry the titles ‘Before’ and ‘After’. Since the first comes before the second and the second after the first, that seems fair enough! But other ironic, mildly humorous, references are presumably also intended. ‘Before’ begins with some opening triads slowly and doggedly affirmed, before quicker, flickering music takes over, at least briefly. The interplay of tempi, indeed, is one of the most intriguing effects in this movement, a subtle construction that holds the attention with no difficulty, for all the relative simplicity of its materials. The two movements are played continuously, the second (‘After’) being more obviously muscular, more texturally complex, more insistent.
 
The performances throughout are exemplary and the recorded sound is all that it needs to be – this is yet another Naxos disc which anyone with an interest in modern music will want to hear.
 
Glyn Pursglove
 
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