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Terry RILEY (b.1935)
The Palmian Chord Ryddle (2011) [35.23]
At the Royal Majestic (2013) [33.58]
Tracy Silverman (electric violin)
Todd Wilson (concert organ)
Nashville Symphony/Giancarlo Guerrero
rec. 2012/17, Laura Turner Hall, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville
NAXOS 8.559739 [69.21]

This is an interesting and amiable addition to the Naxos series of American Classics, with world premieres of attractive music from Terry Riley’s more recent output – the two pieces recorded five years apart. The music is more varied than was sometimes true of earlier forms of minimalism, but stylistic elements of tonality and manipulation of short phrases are evident here.

The earlier piece, The Palmian Chord Ryddle, for amplified electric violin, written specifically for Tracy Silverman, has eight connected movements and is autobiographical in inspiration. The Palmian Chord of the title is D, E, F, F#, G#, A, B, C –described by Riley as “a scale or cluster of notes forming the theme of the opening section and shaping its harmonies”. The movement has a clarity and elegance, leading to a sharp contrast with ‘Iberia’, Moorish-infused and dance-like, influenced by Riley’s time as a young man in Andalusia. ‘Slow Drag’ is a blues-flavoured tribute to Riley’s parents, former Charleston dancing champions. ‘Towards the Clouds’ impresses by its dashes of colour and sudden changes of mood. ‘For Maresa’ is a true slow movement, with Lydian mode melodies. Riley has had a long interest in India and its music, and over the years has been a frequent visitor. In the 1970s he studied with the Raga singer Pandit Pran Nath, with whom he subsequently appeared frequently over a quarter of a century. While his teacher was from Northern India, ‘Ghandi-Ji’s Danda’, a joyous section, is influenced by Southern Indian dance – the reference in the title is to Ghandi’s walking stick. ‘Wedding Music’ was written for his son’s wedding, but the work finishes with a reflective and rather moving section, as if of a life considered in tranquility. Though Riley remains very active in his eighties, there is a valedictory quality to this work.

At the Royal Majestic is more obviously extrovert, a concerto for concert organ – a deliberate choice reminiscent of the great Wurlitzers of the super-cinemas of the past (I am just old enough to recall the thrill of the Wurlitzer at the Regent in Brighton). These organs provided chunks of classical music with rearrangements of popular tunes, and Riley here provides a similar variety of moods. Elements of gospel mix with ragtime, blues, romantic waltz, fragments of jitterbug and other elements. The final movement was inspired by annual pilgrimages to Mount Kailish in Tibet, said to be the home of Shiva. ‘Eclectic’ seems too weak as a description, but the whole is most enjoyable.

Performances are committed, recording quality very good. Thomas May’s notes deserve special commendation – informative and helpful.

Michael Wilkinson



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