Eric STOKES (1930-1999)
Woodwind Quintet #2 (1981) [15:56]
Song Circle (1993) [16:40]
Give & Take [3:28]
Four Songs (1963) [14:41]
The Lyrical Pickpocket [16:25]
Maria Jette (soprano: Song Circle, Four Songs)
Trudy Anderson (flute)
Kathy Kienzle (harp)
Merilee Klemp (oboe, Give & Take and Four Songs)
Jim Jacobson (cello, Give & Take)
Sonja Thompson (piano, The Lyrical Pickpocket)
rec. 2009-2016, Sateren Auditorium, Augsburg College
INNOVA RECORDINGS 962 [67:09]
Eric Stokes was a teacher at the University of Minnesota and a notable figure in musical life in the Twin Cities region for four decades. He has been described as a “crusty, eccentric, wonderfully humorous, very healthy and resourceful American composer of gentle, witty, lyrically accessible music, with a taste for folkloric Americana and a “Whitman-esque” ear.” The notes for this release give quite a detailed outline of Stokes’ life and musical influences, one of the most important of which was Charles Ives.
Liberated from that feeling of a need for comparison with European traditions, Eric Stokes seized on unapologetically American and personal sources, and this line of development can immediately be heard in the picturesque wit of Wind Quintet #2, which to my ears places Stokes in the enviable position of a U.S. figure on a par with the U.K.’s Malcolm Arnold. Well-crafted and with a good ear for sonority and instrumental balance, Stokes’ humour is evidenced in opportunities for audience participation and a movement called The Phantom Fakir in which one is invited to guess which of the instruments is the ‘phantom faker.’
Song Circle uses poetry by the composer and his friends, the whimsical nature of the texts “forming a musico-dramatic tour de force that require the singer to be humorous, suspenseful, virtuosic… and a percussionist.” Stokes’ lyrical style is intriguing, effectively using motivic cells and integrating the voice as much with the instruments as setting it up as a diva-like soloist. The colours of harp, flute and voice make for a transparent picture in which the words can easily be followed. A particular favourite is The God and Goddess of Carrots for its prescient reference to an orange god who “sulks in a hole” while the opposing green goddess “waves to the rabbits.”
Give & Take for oboe and cello has plenty of humorous interplay between the instruments, including a ‘tuning’ passage, some jazz-tinted moments, and plenty of healthy argument. Four Songs for soprano and oboe was one of Stokes’ earliest commissions, using mostly texts by Thomas Hardy. The choice of this setting was the result of the occasion for which the piece was written, and Stokes’ resourcefulness in using the interplay of two high voices makes for a fascinating and at times a movingly beautiful and eloquent listen.
The Lyrical Pickpocket breathes new life into six folk songs, once again reinforcing an association with Malcolm Arnold or perhaps Aaron Copland in its delightfully inventive raising of simple melodies into rousing or poignant pieces that must be as fun to play as they are to hear. Subtle touches such as the inclusion of a toy piano for Breath Can Blow Both Ways… serve to enhance already superbly formed works. Discovering Eric Stokes in this way has certainly set me on a path to seek out more of his music, and there can hardly be a better recommendation than that.
With this ‘enhanced disc’ you will find PDF files of scores and instrumental parts for all of these works, each reassuringly but legibly hand-written and ready to roll straight off the printer and onto your music stand. All of the musicians recorded here are leaders in their field and all of these performances are superb. The recorded acoustic is decent enough and production standards are very good indeed.