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New World Records


Robert SAVAGE (1951–1993)
Cowboy Nocturne (1975) [2:31]
Sudden Sunsets ((1989/1993) [14:02]
Florida Poems (1984) [15:13]
An Eye-Sky Symphony (1988) [14:26]
Aids Ward Scherzo (1992) [9:40]
Frost Tree (1987) [5:30]
David del Tredici (piano) (Nocturne), Musicians Accord (Sudden Sunsets, Frost Free, Florida Poems); Polish National Symphony Orchestra/Joel Eric Suben (Symphony); Sara Laimon (piano) (Scherzo)
rec. 16-17 December 1996, Recital Hall, SUNY Purchase, New York (Nocturne); 4-5 October 1996, Lenfell Hall, The Mansion, Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey (Sudden Sunsets, Frost Free); 16-17 December 1996, Recital Hall, SUNY Purchase, New York (Florida Poems); 16-17 December 1986, Concert Hall of Polish Radio, Katowice (Symphony); 4-5 October 1996, Lenfell Hall, The Mansion, Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey (Scherzo)
CRI CD790 [61:22]


Experience Classicsonline

Robert Savage is a new name to me, and probably to you too. This is a most satisfying sampling of his music and I am very impressed.

Savage died in 1993, at the age of 42, of complications arising from AIDS. Sudden Sunsets is, according to the very good notes, the only work of Savage’s which stretched over several years. This is because it covers the time from his first awareness of being HIV-positive to his death. At first hearing I found this piece to be difficult, but repeated hearings have shown me the beauty of the work. Starting with an elusive funky dance for violin and piano, bass clarinet and flute join in, obscuring the original music. An animated section follows, filled with tunes. A cello cadenza leads to a section of stasis and the work ends with a quasi-minimalist piece culminating in the most beautiful coda. It is a perfect composition.

I use the word beautiful because this is beautiful music. Savage can write a good tune and present it attractively and put it in the perfect context.

The Wallace Stevens songs, Florida Poems, derive from a hiking trip to the Florida Everglades and were written on the other side of the country in Taos, New Mexico! These six songs are gratefully laid out for the voice with a magnificent piano accompaniment. This economy of means in song can only have been learned from his teacher - Savage didn’t study with Ned Rorem for nothing. Christine Schadeberg sings with a pure voice, vibrato held to a minimum, and Sara Laimon’s accompaniments are discreet and quite lovely. This is vocal music well written for the voice with tunes to the fore.

The AIDS Ward Scherzo was written whilst Savage was a patient at Lenox Hill Hospital. Beginning with jazzy chords, but in a context culled from Ruggles not Ornette Coleman, the music starts violently and aggressively. The first trio brings respite, marked nostalgic, it is languid and, dare I say it, laid-back. The scherzo reappears, but seems less distracted, to be followed by another trio. The ending has a single chord repeated in ever-increasing volume, only to be snuffed out at its height. Is Savage here making a reference to the fleeting nature of life and the imminent end of his own, I wonder?

Frost Free is a brief duo for clarinet and piano, playful and joyous, and it’s a real winner!

Cowboy Nocturne is the earliest work here. The notes tell us that although its surface alludes to a Chopin Nocturne the voice is obviously American – the voice of the gay Cowboy(?). It’s a lovely piece which ends, as the notes tell us, with “… a gesture unknown in Chopin’s Paris but common in every cocktail bar of Savage’s New York”!

I have kept the best for last – The Eye-Sky Symphony. The opening movement builds from simple material into a climax of gigantic proportions. The scherzo is wild and fantastic, ideas flying all over the place, nothing really settling down - urgency is the name of this music. An insistent timpani leads into the finale. A gorgeous oboe solo gets things going, then it all changes and elements of Ives from The "St Gauden's" in Boston Common (Col Robert Gould Shaw and his Colored  Regiment) (from Three Places in New England) appear amid trumpet fanfares. A lonely fanfare has the last word. It’s a very fine piece indeed.

I am always pleased to discover a composer new to me who writes with an original voice, knows how to develop and use his material to the full, can orchestrate and say what he has to say without frills or padding. In Robert Savage I have found one such composer. The tragedy is that his life was too short and there isn’t a large body of work left to us.

The performances are, I am sure, totally authoritative and the recorded sound is excellent with a wide dynamic range, allowing the climaxes to be very full. This is a disk for everyone interested in music of our time. It also serves as a fantastic introduction to anyone wanting to investigate something new but who might be scared from modern music by the likes of Harrison Birtwistle and Charles Ives.

Essential listening.

Bob Briggs


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