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Max LIFCHITZ (b.1948)
Mosaico Latinoamericano (1991) [8:15]
Yellow Ribbons No.44 (2007) [9:11]
Yellow Ribbons No.43 (2007) [7:33]
Three Songs for Soprano and Trumpet (1988) [8:18]
Canto de Paz (1983) [2:59]
Three Concerted Madrigals (2012) [7:36]
Rhythmic Soundscape No.6 (2012) [12:18]
Piano Silhouettes (2012) [14:58]
Ars Nostra Ensemble
rec. 2012, Concert Hall of the University of South Florida’s School of Music, Tampa, Florida
Texts included

Lifchitz the Syncretic could be a short story by Sholem Aleichem. In fact syncretic is the word Max Lifchitz chooses best to describe his musical language and by it he means an amalgam of diverse trends and conventions. The Mexican-born composer, resident now for nearly fifty years in New York, certainly likes to balance his music between ‘simplicity and complexity’ and does so with a great deal of craft and a huge amount of charm.

His music feasts on binary oppositions, creatively employed, between urgency and relaxation and between richer and thinner textures. Much is predicated on dance rhythms. The intriguingly titled Mosaico Latinoamericano for flute and piano (Kim McCormick and Lifchitz) is based on folk melodies from Latin America and the Caribbean in which the flute’s increasing urgency and the piano’s insistent percussiveness set up a fruitful tensions – Lifchitz uses his piano as a drum, or offers little rhythmic prods. Jollity is unleashed in the work’s second part where we encounter Three Blind Mice and Mexican terpsichorean delights. The Yellow Ribbons studies are works written in homage to the former American hostages held in Iran in 1979. No.44 is a single movement containing three sections where traditional sounds contend with some abrasive material and piano clusters, the music eventually thinning to silence. No.43 is written for solo clarinet played here by Calvin Falwell. Cast in six variations the play of tonal and modal is the point of contrast, indeed friction, but attractively so.

Kyoung Cho is the soprano soloist in the Three Songs, Jay Cobble her trumpet partner. Some little military-interrogative material opens this intriguing piece and there’s some Sprechstimme in the central song, which is a setting of a poem by Ron Padgett called Insects. The last song Honey, by Gary Lenhart, is the most serious, thoughtfully written for trumpet and voice and full of quiet lyricism. After Sprechstimme comes vocalise, which is the major component of the tautly attractive Canto de Paz, for soprano, flute and ‘strum piano’, the last named played by Kisun Lee. The Three Concerted Madrigals are warm pastiches of Italian madrigals for the combination of soprano, flute, clarinet, trumpet and percussion (Robert McCormick). The instrumental textures are vibrant and attractive. Written for bass clarinet and percussion, Rhythmic Soundscape No.6 gives the listener plenty of Lifchitz’s March themes as well as a pawky dance in the last of the three in which the bass clarinet rises and rises yet further whilst the percussion remains inconsolably resolute. The longest piece is Piano Silhouettes, played by Sang-Hie Lee, five short studies inspired by the art of Elisabeth Condon. All relevant five paintings from her 2010-11 series called Climb the Black Mountain are beautifully reproduced in colour in the booklet. If you like bifurcated Boogie, zesty keyboard workouts and like nature studies you may well enjoy this set, including the longest and most complex final setting too.

The performances and recordings sound splendidly prepared and crafted, and the composer’s presence is certainly a fillip when he appears, adding his imprimatur to the first two pieces. Syncretic or not, this is a fine disc.

Jonathan Woolf