Jeremy BECK (b.1960)
In Flight Until Mysterious Night, for sextet (2009) [9:56]
Cello Sonata no.2 (1988) [10:11]
In February, for soprano, clarinet, violin and piano (1983) [4:40]
Gemini, for flute, cello and piano (1996) [8:31]
Slow Motion, for vibraphone and piano (1988) [7:35]
Third Delphic Hymn, for solo violin (1980/2003) [2:32]
September Music, for quintet (2002) [17:16]
IonSound Project (Peggy Yoo (flute), Kathleen Costello (clarinet), Eliseo Rael (marimba, vibraphone), Laura Motchalov (violin), Elisa Kohanski (cello), Rob Frankenberry (piano))
Margaret Andraso (soprano)
rec. Bellefield Hall, Pittsburgh University, 28-29 June 2009; 19-20 September 2009 [Sonata, Slow Motion]; 6 December 2009 [Gemini]. DDD
INNOVA 797 [69:21]
Though his name is in all likelihood unfamiliar to all but the cognoscenti, American composer Jeremy Beck is no newcomer to CD, thanks to Innova, who have published three previous discs of his works over the last half a dozen years, all, like this one, produced by Beck himself - see reviews here, here and here. Critically, Beck's music in those releases has generally been well received, and there is nothing in this latest career-spanning collection of chamber works to jeopardise that record.
Beck admits in his detailed notes that he is "not a radical composer"; his music, he says, is "direct and communicative and [...] reveals itself in an American tonal and rhythmic idiom." What that translates to is writing that is more or less instantly attractive to general audiences, being relatively unambitious in its intellectual pretensions, preferring instead to make a more straightforward emotional appeal.
Several of the works, from In Flight Until Mysterious Night, for flute, clarinet, marimba, violin, cello and piano, to Gemini, the ironically titled Slow Motion and September Music, all have an easy-going, light-handed jazzy-bluesy feeling about them in general. This debonair sunniness is occasionally punctuated with duskier hues, as when 'mysterious night' begins to fall in the sextet, or in the first half of Gemini, but Beck's determination to write upbeat, audience-friendly music seems irrepressible.
Nevertheless, he can be more serious: the Third Delphic Hymn - the first two were written by the Ancient Greeks! - is obviously a more solemn piece, as is In February, an early, lovely setting of one of Beck's own poems, nicely sung by Margaret Andraso.
The finest works on the CD are the most substantial: the Second Cello Sonata and September Music for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, which are best characterised as an appealing confluence of the art music tradition with that lighter, often syncopated style that Beck has made his own. Here as elsewhere, Beck's writing for the piano can sound derivative - two generations of American TV programming and film-making have used many of the same phrases and devices many times over - but Beck has the excuse, if he needed it, that he is also a practising attorney, and ultimately the sheer joie de vivre of this music makes it hard not to forgive minor transgressions of this kind. Besides which there are, genuinely, many beautiful passages in both works, particularly September Music, which has some delightful touches and sonorities.
Beck has collaborated closely with the IonSounders from the very beginning of this recording project. They reward him well with committed performances. Moreover, sound quality is excellent. Innova's CD booklets are usually exemplary, and this one is no exception - impressively informative, discreet photos, quality paper, well laid out. The only quibble is the minuscule, narrow font. Not an essential purchase, then, but of those who do commit, few are likely to find themselves feeling short-changed by this quality product.
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Not an essential purchase, then, but of those who do commit, few are likely to find themselves feeling short-changed by this quality product.