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Margaret BROUWER (b.1940)
Chamber Music
Shattered Glass [13:33]
Lonely Lake [11:33]
Clarinet Quintet [19:42]
Arrangements for Blue Streak Ensemble [8:12]
Whom do you call angel now? [5:06]
Sandra Simon (soprano), Daniel Silver (clarinet), Blue Streak Ensemble, Maia String Quartet
rec. Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Ohio, 24 October 2012; St Bridget’s Church, Iowa, 27 September 2007.
NAXOS 8.559763 [58:06]

According to the Naxos booklet notes, Margaret Brouwer’s work is widely acclaimed for its lyricism, emotional power, striking musical imagery and fascinating sonorities. It has earned her numerous awards and a constant demand for new commissions. Well, listening to the music for the first time, having never come across it before, I can understand the level of enthusiasm that it has generated from her supporters. The music makes a very strong impression and there is a high level of invention, emotional pull and craftsmanship to be heard. This isn’t difficult avant-garde music and there’s nothing on the disc that can’t be appreciated and enjoyed on first hearing.
 
Shattered Glass for flute, cello, percussion, and piano offers two contrasting sound-worlds: firstly bright, percussive and piercing and then secondly soft and mysterious. Bright and percussive rules the day and dominates the piece overall but the soft introspective sections featuring some lovely solos from the flute and cello add colour, variety and good old-fashioned humanity to the piece. It’s all as clear as crystal and packs a punch.

The Clarinet Quintet is tremendous. The first movement brings together tonal and 12-note techniques allied to quotes from Christian hymns and themes of Middle Eastern origin. This could easily sound like a real hotchpotch but it doesn’t. Much of the movement is austere and grim but there are moments of repose and passion. Anger is always bubbling away under the surface. The second movement is a real beauty - a romantic setting of the song My white tears broken in the seas. There follows a scherzo to break the spell and then a final movement utilising a 12-note row. The music appears to be heading for a bombastic ending but instead of this Brouwer resists the temptation and the work fades away into silence.

The song Whom do you call angel now? with its Scheherazade-like decorations from the instrumentalists is a very traditional setting. It is completely romantic and utterly entrancing. This is five minutes of sheer joy. Lonely Lake is a depiction of a day in a remote cabin at a summer camp. The opening of the piece is full of early morning mist and bird-calls. The work then progresses with an early morning swim and this is represented by more animated themes. I found Lonely Lake, despite its impressionistic beauty, to have less originality than the composer’s other works featured on the disc. The CD ends with two arrangements of Debussy’s Claire de Lune and Bach’s Two-Part Invention in F and they are expertly done. The Debussy is especially attractive.

In summary, Brouwer’s music is of a very high quality and I can’t imagine anyone not warming to this disc. There is no obvious Brouwer style but everything she writes is most definitely stylish and interesting. Indeed, it was so interesting that I didn’t give the performances and the recording quality a second thought as I listened. All that needs to be said is that the sound is dynamic and thrilling. The playing is faultless and brilliant.

John Whitmore