The credo of US composer David
centres on communication with his audience. There’s
a frank engagement with emotion in his music and it comes as no
surprise to learn that he and his wife, the singer Jenny Litt,
are a cabaret
“Interpreting the great American songbook and satirizing
virtually everything else”. This disc is the first all-Alpher
The instrumentation of his Atlantic Legend
comes as a surprise.
Viola and cello yes but that most ascetic of instruments, the
harpsichord? Alpher is not abashed by the instrument which is
put through the wringer as if it were a piano - in fact the writing
is pianistic. No doubt that is the way he envisaged the piece.
The music has an American pastoralist accent in the Introduction
and is also jazzily and excitingly syncopated
with scorching writing for the two string instruments. There's
just a touch of Bloch in here as well though the presence of that
harpsichord with its overtones of antiquity also reminded me of
Arnold Rosner’s music for the opera Chronicle of Nine
The harpsichord at the start of the second movement might almost
be imitating the harp or the classical guitar and the Appalachian-sentimental
melody is very touching. It has the poignancy of the music for
Ken Burns’ TV Civil War epic documentary. a treasure with a salty
tang. These are two very substantial movements together playing
for approaching 15 minutes. This bipartite piece was written at
the request of Jean Newton for her NY City debut at Merkin Hall
in September 1983. The artists are Maureen Gallagher, viola; Myron
Lutzke, cello; Jean Newton, harpsichord.
Then follows the seven movement Tribute to Kerouac
rates Kerouac highly. It is for clarinet, tenor sax, piano and
string bass (Jonathan Cohler, clarinet; Kenneth Radnofsky, tenor
saxophone; David Alpher, piano; Robert Lynam, string bass). American
suggests Jack Vettriano’s boulevard loneliness. That
turns jazz-sleazy and hip-slack. Movin' On
has that tenor sax stride. The heat dissipates into uber-cool
for clarinet and piano; the pulse slows
is not quite the relaxation I expected.
The mood picture is ambivalent: morbid, moody and then irritable.
a weird microcosm - a bad trip. Beat Scene
is a cue for
the return of that raspy sax and the clarinet throws off its sophistication
to dance around (and with) the sax. Urgency takes us back to the
scatty jazzy rush of Beat scene
and Movin’ On
is at first pensive and melancholy then the jazzy side floods
up again and fades into reflection and inwardness.
is for harp and piano (Martha Moor, harp; David
Alpher, piano) - a rare and far from naturally apt combination.
This piece is in a single movement. The two instruments muse in
contented, yet guarded, communion. The music is like the rest
of Alpher: melodic and determinedly tonal. The pieces ends with
sudden almost violent emphasis.
Elegy for a Friend
(David Alpher, piano) was written in
memory of Alpher's dog Neemu who died, aged seven. He writes of
Neemu as a music-lover who surpassed her origins, explored, learned
and communicated as we all hope to. This is a dark reflection
rather than a celebration of a life or that’s how it communicates
to me. It's also the most dissonant piece here and rises to great
poignant heights at 7:02. This is powerful music – no room for
Songs of Transcendence
is for baritone and piano (Robert
Honeysucker, baritone; David Alpher, piano). Alpher here sets
Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Jones Very and Margaret Fuller. Honeysucker
is resonant and more bassy than baritonal though he is specially
good at the high aspirational material. There's a statuesque quality
to this music that reminded me of Alan Bush's often defiant songs
as in the Whitman setting that is Earthsong
. he has difficulty
with the high-lying smoke by Thoreau. Some, such as Leaves
, are very lyrical. The dizzying Dryad Song
redolent of Britten. The final Columbine
is the last of
two songs by Jones Very which have a Housman feel to them. Worth
exploring, I think.
The words are printed in full in the well assembled liner booklet.
That Alpher has attracted an introduction by the distinguished
composer Gardner Read is remarkable for a start.
To date this is the only all-Alpher CD. I feel there will be more.
There deserve to be more.