Andy TEIRSTEIN (b.1957)
Open Crossings
Kopanitza (2005) [6:53]
Yuri Vodovoz (violin); Andy Teirstein (viola)
Invention (2005) [5:21]
Cygnus Ensemble
What is Left of Us (2004) [8:45]
Naaz Hosseini (solo alto); Aurelia Schenker (chorus soprano); Willa Roberts (chorus mezzo); Eva Primak (chorus alto); Andy Teirstein (viola); Erik Friedlander (cello)
Suite (1996) [10:54]
Mary Rowell and Susan Shumway (violins); Sam Kephardt (viola); Bruce Wang (cello)
The Shooting of Dan McGrew (2007) [8:22]
David M Lutken (narrator); Margaret Lancaster (flute); Rob Middleton (clarinet); Thomas Hutchinson (trombone); Margaret Kampmeier (piano); Yuri Vodovoz (violin); Diliana Momthilovna (cello)
Three Movements for String Quartet and Folk Musician (2007) [9:43]
Cassatt Quartet with Andy Teirstein (Jew’s harp, harmonicas, banjo)
Turn Me Loose (2007) [10:20]
Alaria Trio
Maramures (in memory of Jacob Glick) (1995 revised 2008) [15:30]
Danielle Farina (viola); Kiev Philharmonic Orchestra/Robert Ian Winstin
rec. 2007-08 various locations
NAXOS 8.559617 [75:48]

Andy Teirstein has one of those picaresque biographies that you couldn’t make up: it’s enough to cite his days as a musical clown in a Mexican circus to give you some idea. He’s a music-theatre man through and through, though ‘theater’ is the American way, and this barnstorming example of the breed has sought a wide range of musical influences, from Appalachian to Balkan, to seed his own music. As a violist he sits at the heart of things and indeed he plays the viola in this disc of his own music - a wide-ranging conspectus crewed by a suitably large number of ensembles, great and smaller. It’s a heady brew.

There are Balkan folkloric strains running strongly through Kopanitza, a piece that toys with time signatures and dynamic variance. There’s an engaging sense of narrative as well throughout its multi-partite length. Invention was inspired by Schoenberg’s Serenade Op.24 but retains a strong and freewheeling independence of its own, and remains rhythmically vivacious. What is Left of Us is for voice - here an alto, Naaz Hosseini - two chorus singers, a violist and cellist. The text is notable, and the ethos veers from melismatic to pop-orientated. It was composed in response to 9/11 but strikes a very different point of view to the response of, say, John Adams, whose own rather more portentous setting, On the Transmigration of Souls, seeks to occupy a different layer of emotive response.

The Suite is a performance piece rich in counterpoint, with an intense Pavanne, and a pawky (alternating folkloric) Gigue to finish. Despite the baroque-sounding affiliations the spirit is closer to Classicism. One of the most recent pieces is Teirstein’s setting of that good old good one The Shooting of Dan McGrew. To listeners of a certain age and geography the original would have been ripe for parody by Billy ‘Almost A Gentleman’ Bennett (perhaps he did). It’s a good ensemble piece, a burlesque melodrama, though maybe a dose of Antheil’s compressive spirit might have tightened it. David M Lutken is the fearless narrator.

Three Movements for String Quartet and Folk Musician utilises some sound-specific examples of Americana. There’s a movement each for Jew’s harp, harmonica and banjo, all played in the saddle, as it were, by the composer with the members of the Cassatt Quartet. Inevitably this has a folksy vigour, a camp-fire sense of nostalgia and there’s an Appalachian-Pete Seeger feel in the last. Turn Me Loose (2007) is for piano trio, and it embraces Ragtime in the first movement and some strong Jewish inflexions in The Rebbe’s Dance. The disc ends with Maramures (in memory of Jacob Glick), a three movement viola concerto, steeped in Eastern European folk-music. There’s a rich Allegro opener and expansive lines for the central movement - noble processional and portent too. The tangy trumpet and percussion galvanise the finale, a fast dance with cadenza for the intrepid soloist Danielle Farina.

As one might expect this is an eclectic mélange of music, excellently played, recorded and documented. Teirstein may have been a clown but he’s no fool.

Jonathan Woolf