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Volante - The Langroise Trio
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890 - 1959)
Serenata No. 2, H216 (1932) (for 2 violins and viola, arranged for string trio by David Johnson) [7.46]
Greg BARTHOLOMEW (b.1957)
String Trio for George Crumb (2004) [10.47]
Pierre Max DuBOIS (1930 - 1995)
Suite en Trio des Cordes (1988) [13.34]
David Alan EARNEST (b.1960)
The Isle of Bathos (2007) [8.03]
Jim COCKEY (b.1947)
String Trio No. 2, “To the Wandering Hero of Distant Lands” (2007) [18.16]
Langroise Trio (Geoffrey Trabichoff (violin); Samuel Smith (cello); David Johnson (viola)
rec. 20 December 2007, Langroise Recital Hall, Caldwell, Idaho, USA
Notes in English            
No label 5721 [62.34] 
Experience Classicsonline

In this year’s (2008) concert series the Langroise Trio gave us mostly works of the Classical period — Brahms and Hummel Piano Quartets, the complete Beethoven String Trios, even a Herzogenberg Trio. for their fourth CD1 (see review of an earlier release) they are back, by popular request, with their more frequently heard modern music repertoire (see a concert review including the Bartholomew and Earnest works on this release).  More than half the music presented on this disk was written in the 21st Century, and most of that is recorded here for the first time.
 
David Johnson’s transcriptions for the Trio of works for two violins and viola have always met with considerable success; the works seem to blossom out with the additional lower sonorities.  Such works were often originally written for students so they will have something to play along with their classmates, so the music in its original form is admittedly compromised and there is no primal sonic integrity in the original version to be preserved.  This particular work was played in the second concert by the Langroise Trio that I ever attended, and it doesn’t particularly “sound like” Martinů apart from exhibiting that author’s typical lyricism and fresh originality.  The played it for us again last evening and I was struck by the rarefied and cleverly parodied folk music flavour of the last movement.  Like all the music on this disk the structure is basically tonal and, again like most of the music on this disk, there are at times a quirkiness, rhythmic innovation, and freshness that actively engage the listener.
 
Greg Bartholomew (born 1957) studied at the College of William and Mary and at University of Washington.  His sole direct contact with George Crumb appears to be his participation in a composition workshop.  Of his String Trio for George Crumb, Mr. Batholomew writes that it was commissioned by the Oregon Bach Festival composers’ Symposium in honor of George Crumb2 on the occasion of his 75th birthday and was premiered by the Third Angle New Music Ensemble at Beall Concert Hall, Eugene, Oregon, 3 July 2004.  A revised score was premiered in Chicago on 20 April 2005.
 
The composer explains that the first movement is constructed almost entirely from the initial and final letters of Crumb’s name, the pitches G,E,C and B (“GEorGE CrumB”).  The second and third movements each extend 75 bars, marking Crumb’s 75 years.  The second movement is based on the “Sarabanda” theme from Crumb’s extended work for electric string quartet Black Angels.  The G E C B motif recurs in the third movement but this time it is G# E C# B, “as the piece concludes with a bit of fun.”
 
None of this gematria would seem to be very musical, but the result is quite beautiful, better than much of Crumb’s music.  “G E C” is the descending C major triad (G# E C# is the descending C# minor triad), and much of the music sounds remarkably as if it were written in the Renaissance.  You will enjoy this work immensely and want to hear more by this “youthful” (50 years old!) composer.
 
Pierre Max DuBois won the first of two Prix de Rome awarded for music in 1955 which puts him in company with Berlioz, Bizet, Debussy, Dutilleux, Ibert, Dupré; and Ernest, Lili, and Nadia Boulanger.  He studied at the Conservatoire in Tours, later at the Conservatory in Paris with Milhaud; and still later taught analysis there.
 
This Suite en Trio in four movements is reminiscent of Françaix in its wacky humour and solid craftsmanship.  There are certain echoes of Milhaud also, but the work has a fundamental originality and is very entertaining as well as being stimulating and moving.  The strong unison rhythms may have influenced David Earnest, particularly in his Third String Trio.
 
Caldwell, Idaho, in 2008 may not be quite so exciting musically as Vienna in 1790 but the comparison is not so far fetched as you might imagine.  Here we have two world class composers in David Alan Earnest and Jim Cockey regularly premiering stunning new works.  The Langroise Trio and its world class virtuoso members are at the centre of this phenomenon performing these new works both as the Trio, as the Trio augmented with other soloists, sometimes accompanying Idaho Dance Theater performances, as section leaders in the Boise Philharmonic Orchestra, and individually as soloists in concertos.  Recently we have had works for string trio from Earnest, three Symphonies from Cockey, Earnest’s Cello Concerto with Sam Smith as soloist, and we look forward to soon hearing Cockey’s Violin Concerto for Geoffrey Trabichoff.  The interplay between composers and performers is electrifying and mutually reinforcing.  On this disk we have recording premiers of two chamber works recently premiered in performance by the Trio.
 
Most of us think of “bathos” as meaning something absurd or vulgar.  Specifically, the Webster dictionary says “a ludicrous descent from the lofty … to the commonplace ...”  But in titling his piece Isle of Bathos David Alan Earnest is playing a game with us, using bathos more in its original sense where it merely meant descent from complex to simple or an abrupt emergence of simplicity out of complexity.  Admittedly to those who don’t have the opportunity of hearing the composer explain or read the program notes, the joke must remain a private one, and Mr. Earnest is apparently satisfied with that, letting most people think he is simply making light of himself and his music.  He explains that while composing the work he was bombarded by too many ideas and only by taking himself very lightly, humorously, could he resolve them into a coherent structure.  A further hint at what this music is about are early titles for the work: El Extrano Espagnol, or The Eccentric.  But in the end, music is music, and we expect too much if we demand an explanation from the composer in non-musical terms because, as Mendelssohn said, “…music is too explicit for words” and a title is after all just something to put on the cover of a score.  And, however much the preceding may have assisted the composer in overcoming obstacles, the result is a relatively straightforward sonata movement based on rhythmic as well as melodic motifs.  In this as in the next work you will at times find it impossible to believe you are only hearing three instruments; this music has the sonic depth and textural complexity you associate with string quartets or larger ensembles.  The Langroise Trio have an amazing ability to produce a tremendously powerful sound without in the least sacrificing beauty of tone.
 
Earnest was born in rural Canyon County, Idaho, and obtained a Bachelor of Music Composition degree from Wheaton College3.  He writes music for a living in an amazing variety of forms, including commercials, film and television scores, and a very successful New Age electronic album, “Visit the Blue Planet.”  To listen to excerpts or for information on purchase of his recordings, go to his website.
 
Jim Cockey was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but has spent most of his life in Idaho.  He holds a degree in Musical Composition from the University of Oregon where he studied with Homer Keller and Hal Owen.  Cockey has worked with the Moody Blues and the Carson City Symphony; his First and Third Symphonies were premiered by the Boise Philharmonic Orchestra and his Second Symphony by the Billings, Montana, Symphony Orchestra4.  Jim’s brother Tim is the author of two series of popular crime novels. 
 
The first piece by Jim Cockey that I heard was his String Trio  #1: Elegy to an Ancient Battlefield performed at a Langroise Trio concert.  The composer had in mind the heroic struggles of daily life as mirrored in great literature, specifically The Iliad.  The overwhelming beauty and emotional power of this work absolutely knocked my socks off.  I immediately wrote to the composer and subsequently obtained the only recording of his music then available5, a CD of his first two Symphonies which I also admire very much.  When Cockey received a commission to produce a work for the Langroise Trio to play while accompanying a performance at the Idaho Dance Theater, he decided that since he had “done” The Iliad, he would now “do” The Odyssey, a parable for life’s journeys as The Iliad is a parable for life’s struggles.
 
The result is this work, String Trio #2, To the Wandering Hero of Distant Lands. Its origin as dance music is evident in all the movements.  (I never saw the dance performance, I was too ill to attend.)  In the first movement, “???????” (“of the man, tell me, muse,” the opening lines of The Odyssey) I see a vivid picture of Odysseus before the War, dancing with his Greek male friends; everything is stirring, virile, joyous, optimistic.  They probably wouldn’t be wearing white skirts and pompoms, perhaps wearing nothing at all.  The second movement, “Farewell Calypso,” is a lovely, sad adagio, some of the composer’s most melodic music.  “The Many Adventures of Our Hero,” not the longest movement, is a vigorous, active, musical picture, a sort of En Saga for trio.  “Ithaca,” the longest movement is another adagio, uncertain anticipation, tinged with a sense of nostalgia, perhaps homesickness.  Finally “The Hero Returns” is a vigorous, joyous polyrhythmic celebration containing curious interruptions.  The three strings manage to sound like a full orchestra of instruments; you’ll swear you hear brass and percussion.  This is due not only to the profound skill of the performers but also to the composer’s experience with teaching violin and directing a string orchestra.
 
At their first concert this season the Trio played Cockey’s trios No.1 and No.2 in concert in succession as an experiment in collaboration with the composer.  The possible result of this will be the publication of the two works bound together as a single two-part string trio on “Homeric” themes.   In the meantime, by means of recordings you can listen to them this way and make up your own mind.  My own feeling is that the works are best played and appreciated separately.
 
What distinguishes these three pieces of 21st Century music?  Your first reaction might be that they could just as easily have been written in 1923.  For some passages, yes, but then some passages in Beethoven sound Rococo, some passages in Bach sound High Renaissance.  The musical experience of the late 20th century included late Shostakovich (Earnest proudly acknowledges influence from Shostakovich, but there is in his music none of Shostakovich’s pessimism, only the wit, song, brilliance, and structural integrity), late Stravinsky, and Philip Glass - Earnest and Cockey might be surprised to have it pointed out how much their most lyrical moments resemble Glass at his most lyrical.  And, the absolute death of dodecaphonic dogma has left modern composers free to dally with tonal ambiguity, polymodalism, and torturously complex polyrhythmic canons with an assurance, confidence, a sense of déja vu impossible in 1923.  Also there was a pervasive sarcasm in music in 1923 that is now gone.  Finally the recent explosion in interest in World Music has re-established the connection to the Earth which music requires at regular intervals.  Think of [Gilbert and] Sullivan’s music rejuvenated by the sounds from the Japanese exhibition in London, Debussy bowled over by the gamelan music at a Paris exhibition, Liszt’s and Brahms’ adventures with Hungarian cabaret music, Carl Orff’s elaborations on medieval manuscripts from Burana, Mahler’s exaltation of the ländler; and now Bollywood, Africa, and Heavy Metal are in the mix.  Also, we have returned to the direct relationship between composers and their audience that prevailed 300 years ago; these three composers will sell their music directly to you and want you to tell them directly what you think of it.  The 21st Century promises to be musically extravagant and brim-full of greatness.
 
Paul Shoemaker

Footnotes
1. The first three recordings are in print and available for purchase from swsmith@collegeofidaho.edu.
 
2. Besides Black Angels, famously recorded by the Kronos Quartet of San Francisco, George Crumb is known for his orchestral work Echoes of Time and the River for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1968; I don’t have to hear this work because the way you win a Pulitzer Prize is to sound exactly like Elliot Carter.  In 2001 a recording of his Star Child won a “Grammy” award for Best Contemporary Composition.  The Naxos website describes his music as “hauntingly beautiful;” my observation is that this is true of the Three Early Songs (1947) and Dream sequence (Images II) of 1976.  Ancient Voices of Children (texts by Federico Garcia Lorca who is no longer around to complain) sounds to me exactly like a mouse ran up the soprano’s leg and got into her knickers.  A Little Suite for Christmas sounds to me like a three-year-old doing terrible things to a piano while crawling all over it.  Perhaps Mr. Bartholomew’s joke is that George Crumb would never have written a piece so tonal and relaxed as his.
 
3. Wheaton College 25 miles west of Chicago is a Christian Protestant evangelical university whose motto is “For Christ and His Kingdom.”  The music school stresses performance is world renowned for excellence.
 
4. Many Europeans and Eastern Americans are probably bewildered by much of what I have just written.  When they were in school the US Pacific Northwest was, at least musically, a blank spot on the map.  Never mind that violinist Louis Kaufmann was born in 1905 in Portland, Oregon, and received his early training there; or ditto with Yehudi Menuhin in San Francisco in 1916.  The (Portland) Oregon Symphony was established in 1896 and the Seattle Symphony gave its first performance in 1903.  The Boise City Orchestra was established in 1884, changing its name to the Boise Civic Symphony in 1915.  The Billings, Montana, Symphony Orchestra was established in 1950.  Compare these dates to those of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (founded 1945), Utah Symphony Orchestra (1922), Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra (1919), Cleveland Orchestra (1918), and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra (1910).

5. Since then the Langroise trio has released their recording of Ancient Battlefield on their third CD, “Pensiero.”  

 


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