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(b.1953) Libero Arbitrio (1999) [9:13]
(1929 – 2008) Masks (Five Theatre Abstracts), op.109 (1983) [13:28]
Christopher WEAIT
(b.1939) Ten by Three – A Collection of Folksongs from Quebec [13:53]
Seven Short Rhapsodies for oboe and bassoon (2003) [3:55]
Charles LIPP
Twelve by Three [10:39]
Mikhail GLINKA
(1804 – 1857) Overture: Ruslan and Ludmila (arranged by Robert SUMM O S B) [2:44]
Arbitrio (Alicia Cordoba Tait (oboe and cor anglais), Doug Spaniol (bassoon), Bradley Haag (piano)) rec. June 2000, St Catarina Lutheran Church, St Petersburg, Russia (Munn Libero and Hoddinott) and June 2000 and June 2004, Foellinger Great Hall, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana, Illinois USA. DDD
CENTAUR CRC 3013 [54:03]

Experience Classicsonline

There are a lot of composers in America who seldom get a hearing on this side of the Atlantic, so we must be grateful for issues like this, which allow us the chance to hear what is going on over there.
It says a lot for these American composers that the best work here, that is the best written and musically thought out, is by the Welshman Alun Hoddinott. What Hoddinott achieves in a mere thirteen minutes is a suite of rare excitement, virtuoso writing, dark, brooding nocturnes and brilliant flashes of light. It’s a perfect example of how to write for a trio of this kind with the music laid out fairly between all three players, and their working together as a single unit. It also has that rare ability to feel as if one has been on a very long journey, so well does the music suspend time. Best of all, it leaves you wanting more.
Christopher Weait is a bassoonist, teacher, composer, author and conductor. He was principal bassoon in the Toronto Symphony, and has played in the Chamber Symphony of Philadelphia and the United States Military Academy Band at West Point. He was born in England but his parents emigrated to the USA in 1947. He is now an American citizen. His Ten by Three – A Collection of Folksongs from Quebec, is simply ten movements played by three musicians. The notes tell us that this piece is “Based upon delightful songs and singing games, each movement is unique in character”. Well, that’s one way of looking at the piece. I fail to see, or hear, the “unique character” of each piece. I also fail to discern the “delightful songs” upon which the pieces are based. It seems to me that what we have here is a lovely set of teaching pieces which give some passing pleasure but have no substance and, despite the relative brevity of the pieces (they range in duration from 49 seconds to 2 minutes), they outstay their welcome, for there is insufficient variety within the suite.
Charles Lipp is Professor of bassoon at the University of Nevada, who studied composition with Maurizio Kagel. Twelve by Three is a composition of twelve pieces (played without a break) played by three musicians. The separate pieces are easily discernable but the whole piece is so dour as to make listening to the whole piece difficult. The composer fails to draw me into his world and because of this I find the composition to have a failure to communicate.
Zae Munn has, since 1990, been on the teaching staff at Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana. She has an impressive list of works to her credit in all genres, and both the works on this disk were written for the members of Arbitrio. I am unsure as to the purpose of Libero Arbitrio, and the note in the booklet doesn’t really help matters – “…my thoughts about free will and its counterpart predetermination had an important impact on the writing of Libero Arbitrio, what is more audible is the use of evolving ostinatos, references to the syncopation and metric aspects of jazz, and the at times operatic treatment of the instruments in the solo and duet sections.” First of all, does the concept of freewill mean that there are passages of improvisation within the work? It doesn’t sound as if there are, and if not then the note needs further explanation. I feel none of the syncopation of jazz – but perhaps this is because we are so used to syncopation in our contemporary music. Listen to the music without any pre-conceived ideas and it seems to make sense in an abstract way – although it must be said that it is far too long for its material . Her other piece – Seven Short Rhapsodies for oboe and bassoon – is too short to allow one to really get into the separate pieces. It’s pleasant enough but lacks any real personality.
Glinka’s Overture to his opera Ruslan and Ludmila is one of those miscalculations which must have seemed like a good idea before it was undertaken. I recently attended a string quartet recital where, as an encore, after a superb performance of the Debussy Quartet, we were given a very poor arrangement of the Flight of the Bumble Bee, which was specially made for the performers. They obviously loved it, and hammed it up in performance, but what they failed to understand was that it was worthless as a composition. The same must be said of this weak-limbed version of the Glinka.
Arbitrio – an unfortunate name as it conjures up visions of things being arbitrary – is a fine group, they play well and work well together. However, I cannot work up any enthusiasm for this disk for so much of the music is lack-lustre and rather dull, with little to hold the attention. For anyone wanting the Hoddinott piece it’s essential, but I cannot think that this disk will stir many because most of the music simply isn’t interesting. The recording is good but the notes are somewhat perfunctory.
Bob Briggs


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