Paul PACCIONE (b.1952)
Rhapsody (2005) [4:19] (a)
Stations – To Morton Feldman (1987) [7:02] (b)
Inscape: Three Choral Settings from Gerard Manley Hopkins (2007) [10:28] (c)
A Page for Will (2003) [1:49] (d)
Three Motets: Arabesques (1999) [16:00] (e)
Five Songs from Christina Rossetti (2003) [14:24] (f)
‘Postlude’ from Planxty Cage (1993-1994) [2:02] (d)
(a) Molly Paccione (clarinet), Jenny Perron (piano); (b) Michael Campbell (piano); (c) Western Illinois University Singers/James Stegall; (d) Nurit Tilles (piano); (e) Molly Paccione (clarinets); (f) Terry Chasteen (tenor), Molly Paccione (clarinet), Moisés Molina (cello), Andrea Molina (piano); (g) Nurit Tilles (piano)
rec: (a) 8-11 June 2009, Krannert Center for the Arts, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois; (b) 29 May, 2003, College of Fine Arts and Communication Recital Hall, Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois; (c) 6 March, 2008, location as (b); (d) 3 August, 2009, Patrych Sound Studios, New York; (e) Spring 2000, Macomb, Illinois; (f) 27-28 May, 2009, location as (a).
NEW WORLD RECORDS 80706-2 [57:02]

I start off well disposed towards a composer who chooses for the title of his CD a quotation from one of my favourite English lyrics, Ben Jonson’s exquisite ‘Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears’ from Cynthia’s Revels of 1600, of which readers may be familiar with settings by Vaughan Williams, Roger Quilter and Ned Rorem – and I dare say there are others too. Paccione’s fine ear for poetry is confirmed by the quality of his settings here from Christina Rossetti and Gerard Manley Hopkins. But I don’t think it was by any means just my predisposition that produced the pleasure I experienced on repeated hearings of this CD.

The music on this disc displays a fair stylistic range but beneath the superficial variety there is a recurrent sense of repose, of inner tranquillity, an absence of the emotionally histrionic, as it were. But, I hasten to add, that doesn’t mean that this is ‘easy listening’ music; far from it, this is thoughtful, inventive, and occasionally challenging music.

The most obvious sense of repose comes in a piece such as ‘Stations’, dedicated to the memory of Morton Feldman. It shares Feldman’s fascinated enjoyment of the quiet and the still, of the repetitive or at least of the only subtly varied. There is a musico-poetic sense in which the interstitial silences which allow us to hear the fading away of notes and chords both allude to Feldman’s own music and enact an elegiac sense of loss. Michael Campbell gave the first performances of Stations in January 1988 and in this recording made some five years later he enables its sounds and its silences to speak for themselves very effectively.

In ‘Rhapsody’ the lyrical lines of the clarinet, which have something of a pacific, even pastoral quality to them, exist in a strikingly undramatic relationship with the piano writing, as the two instruments wind their way through a harmonic circle, to and from F major, so as to return to where they started – any sense of ‘development’ or ‘progression’ subsumed in a larger sense of stasis.

Molly Paccione’s clarinet(s) – the pieces are for four pre-recorded clarinets – interweave in complex polyphony in ‘Three Motets: Arabesques’. The term ‘Arabesque’ is here used with a more direct reference to the intricately interwoven lines in a system of decoration than to its use by, say, Debussy. The patterns of imitation are thoroughly absorbing - the title’s implicit allusion to Renaissance polyphony is certainly relevant - and these three beautiful, slow pieces seem, in their constant turning back upon themselves, in their rich texture of internal cross-reference, once again to refuse conventional musical momentum towards resolution.

Two further piano pieces are persuasively played by Nirit Tilles. The complete subtitle of ‘A Page for Will’ merits quotation in full: ‘Written on request from the University of California, San Diego, for inclusion in a Festschrift to honor the retirement of Wilbur Ogdon, Professor of Music. The requirement was that submissions be no longer than one page’. Given that Paccione himself is Professor of Music Theory and Composition at Western Illinois University then it must, I suppose, be conceded that this is, in the most literal sense, an ‘academic’ composition. Add the fact that it is a two-voice canon and it may come as a surprise that it is also a charmingly inviting piece which has a golden calmness of its own. Though again a largely gentle composition, ‘Postlude’ is a little less satisfying, its patterns perhaps too readily predictable, the overall effect rather slight. The booklet notes by Blue Gene Tyranny explain that the two minutes of ‘Postlude’ are extracted from a twenty-minute composition (‘Planxty Cage’) – perhaps ‘Postlude’ has lost too much in its separation from the larger work.

Paccione’s settings of Hopkins and Christina Rossetti are delightful. His Hopkins is a quietist, Paccione’s choice of poems avoiding the more exclamatory, energetic side of the poet. Paccione, unsurprisingly, responds to the “fields where flies no sharp and sided hail” to the seas “where no storms come / Where the green swell is in the havens dumb” (from ‘Heaven-Haven’ the first of Paccione’s three settings). That marvellous poem ‘Spring and Fall’ gets a setting which almost does it justice (I intend that as praise), but is just a bit too pacifically untroubled. ‘At the Wedding March’ would grace any ceremony, Hopkins’s fusion of the languages of Christian blessing and classical epithalamium perfectly articulated in Paccione’s music, which is by turns homophonic and polyphonic. All three Hopkins settings are very finely sung by the Western Illinois University Singers.

The ‘Five Songs from Christina Rossetti’ – ‘Listening’, ‘A Dirge’, ‘Bird Rapture’, ‘The Key-Note’ (an excerpt from ‘A Christmas Carol’) and ‘Spring Quiet’ – are sung with unforced expressiveness and an attractive tone by tenor Terry Chasteen, with clarinet, cello and piano used both to support and to comment. Paccione’s choice – and ordering – of texts is emotionally intelligent and structurally subtle, resulting in a genuine song-cycle, and his writing fully respects the value of the words he has chosen; this is a composer not prepared to subordinate poems to his own musical desires, but to serve them in a spirit of co-operation. The vocal lines here hark back to English song of the early twentieth century - and earlier than that. To invoke such analogies, having already mentioned Feldman, may make Paccione sound like no more than a musically competent eclectic. But he is far more than that – he is a composer who evidently has a personality of his own and the ability to express that personality within more than one musical idiom.

Paul Paccione appears to have made no previous appearance on the pages of MusicWeb International. Some of the many American composers who earn their livings within the universities have, let it be admitted, relatively little of substance to offer as composers. Paccione is one of the distinguished and valuable exceptions – I very much hope to hear more of his work.

Glyn Pursglove

An impressive, approachable collection, with a pleasing stylistic variety underpinned by a distinctive personality.