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Aaron Jay KERNIS (b. 1960)
On Distant Shores
On Distant Shores (2011) [12:04]
Morning Song with Mist (2011) [4:23]
Playing Monster (2006) [3:09]
Angel Lullaby (2004) [4:21]
Ballad (2004) [9:08]
Linda's Waltz (2003) [2:40]
Speed Limit Rag (2001) [2:21]
Trio in Red (2011?) [17:23]
Susan Babini, Caroline Stinson (cello)
Joseph Peters (oboe)
Ayako Oshima (clarinet)
Evelyne Luest (piano)
Daedalus Quartet/Aaron Jay Kernis
rec. 2006-2014, Sprague Memorial Concert Hall, Yale School of Music.
PHOENIX PHCD183 [56:30]

Kernis stands as one of the USA's better recognised names among living composers. He was born in Philadelphia and his studies have taken him far and wide in the USA. At San Francisco Conservatory of Music he was a pupil of John Adams; at Manhattan School of Music he studied with Charles Wuorinen and at Yale with Morton Subotnick, Bernard Rands and Jacob Druckman. It's some measure of the recognition he commands that the following CDs are available from Phoenix USA. First Symphony, Second Symphony and Before Sleep. The present disc concerns itself with Kernis's music for chamber groups or single instrument.

On Distant Shores is in two segments with a placid serene Air which is at times close to Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel. It is preceded by a more enigmatic section called simply Opening. The whole piece is inspired by the Helen of Troy story and was written as a ballet for Rioult Dance New York. Morning Song with Mist stands between the styles of Ireland, Debussy and Sorabji. It's a work of contemplative temperament. Playing Monster makes inventively free with children's fright games in gawky ghoulish madness - a sort of whirling pianola score barely under control.

Angel Lullaby takes us to serenity again and is in the same league as Peter Maxwell Davies' Farewell to Stromness. Ballad was written in the wake of the death of Kernis's mother, Mildred. Heard here in a version for cello and piano it pursues a plangently sounded out course which is tender and eloquent. In Linda's Waltz jazz-syncopation and sentimentality engages with the listener in a gracious yet subtle smile. The almost casual Speed Limit Rag harks entertainingly back to Scott Joplin. Trio in Red is in two movements encompassing sleepy somnolence and a wheezing and gurgling hay-ride. The three players here are members of the Contrasts Ensemble.

This well recorded collection has a miscellaneous feel but each work has distinctive emotional dimensions. Kernis is a melodic composer whose work is accessible and rewarding. Even so, if you are looking to begin an exploration of Kernis then start with Phoenix USA's discs of the First and Second Symphonies.

Music that charms yet has intellectual fibre. Kernis is always worth lending your ear to.

Rob Barnett


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