Stacy GARROP (b.1969)
Silver Dagger, for violin, cello and piano (2009) [5:28]
In Eleanor's Words, for mezzo and piano (2006) [27:58]
String Quartet no.3 'Gaia' (2008) [33:49]
Lincoln Trio; Buffy Baggott (mezzo); Kuang-Hao Huang (piano); Biava Quartet
rec. Fay and Daniel Levin Performance Studio, WFMT, Chicago, 30 November 2009 (trio); 4-6 December 2009 (Eleanor); 3-5 February 2010 (Quartet). DDD
CEDILLE CDR 90000 122 [67:30] 

This is the first CD dedicated entirely to the works of American composer Stacy Garrop, who is Associate Professor of Composition at the Roosevelt University in Chicago.

The disc opens aptly with an aperitif: Silver Dagger, for violin, cello and piano, incorporates three variants of an Appalachian folksong, from which comes the title. A simple, straightforward work, but sultry too in its way, and played with poised passion by the Lincoln Trio, for whom Garrop wrote the piece.
The other two works are far more substantial. Garrop's Third String Quartet is subtitled 'Gaia', after the Greek goddess of the earth - the second 'eco-quartet' released this year, as it happens, following Ronald Corp's more modest String Quartet no.1 'The Bustard' on Naxos (see review). Each of the generally programmatic five movements depicts a different aspect of the mythology, from the turmoil become pristine beauty of 'Creation of Mother Earth' to the earthy rhythms of 'Dance of the Earth', and from the weeping and SOSes of 'Lamentation', depicting humanity's relentless abuse of the planet, to the extended finale, '... et in terra pax', in which a positive outcome to humankind's so-called custody of Earth is wished for, in appropriately ambiguous music - though the final bars sound a lot like the planet's rainforest lungs finally giving out. Written for and expressively played by the Biava Quartet.
The final work lends its name to the CD, and gave rise to the curious jazz-style CD cover. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin D, is the lady in question, and an appropriate choice, given Garrop's academic residency! In Eleanor's Words takes some of the former First Lady's words from her syndicated newspaper columns, arranged chronologically from 1936 to 1961, giving a brief but interesting personal view of unfolding pre- and post-war history. The texts are prose, not poetry, and Garrop sets them using a mixture of declamation, sprechstimme, sprechgesang and orthodox singing. How convincing the results are will depend a lot on individual sensibilities: American audiences will probably find the cycle considerably more appealing than most Europeans, because it sometimes shades into sophisticated-Sondheim-musical territory, whose appreciative audiences in the Old World are not most obviously found among aficionados of art music.
Nevertheless, Garrop's writing is undeniably imaginative, even innovative. Californian mezzo-soprano Buffy Baggott's voice is in some ways ideal for the job - for one thing, she does sound eerily like a politician in the spoken parts! She recorded Garrop's Ars Poetica, a setting of Billy Collins, with the Lincoln Trio for another Cedille CD released in 2009, reviewed here. This time she gives a better performance than reported there in what is sometimes very difficult music, but her operatic voice, breath control and idiosyncratic phrasing will not be to everyone's taste. Kuang-Hao Huang, on the other hand, provides a thoroughly polished accompaniment throughout - the piano music sometimes calls for super-human feats of concentration and virtuosity.
The disc is beautifully recorded, and the CD booklet is exactly how CD booklets should always be, thoughtfully and clearly laid out, with as much information as the average listener needs, no more or less. There are also a few unobtrusive photos for good measure, everything printed on high quality paper - although, given the message of Garrop's String Quartet, it is surprising that no indication is given as to the eco-friendliness of the source of that paper!
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Garrop's writing is undeniably imaginative, even innovative.