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Eric STOKES (1930-1999)
The Lyrical Pickpocket
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]
Riverside Winds
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. 2009-15, Sateren Auditorium, Augsburg College, Minneapolis, USA
Notes, scores and texts included.
INNOVA 962 [67:09]

Innova specialises in music by contemporary American composers. This issue is a tribute to Eric Stokes, who was killed in a motor accident in 1999. The CD was designed to provide a representative selection of chamber pieces. The result is a charming collection of obviously modern but appealing pieces, with moments of lyricism with a contemporary idiom. Particular strengths include some apposite word painting as well as moments of real wit.

The opening Woodwind Quintet reveals much about the composer, both in terms of strengths and limitations. Stokes seems essentially a skilled miniaturist. Each of the four named movements has its own charms. Midsummer Weedlot, the first movement, calls for audience participation. (That is not really fully represented in this recording. The audience, divided into five choirs, is supposed randomly to represent various sounds: wind, insects, finger-clicks and so on). In the Phantom Fakir the audience is meant to guess which player is the Phantom Fakir as only four are really playing. The recording cannot capture these lively aspects, but nevertheless provides musical insights, as the quintet moves from an aggressive opening to a more lyrical conclusion. My concern is about how the four movements cohere as a single piece. The whole does not seem to add up to more than the sum of the parts.

The purely instrumental piece, the brief Give and Take for oboe and cello, begins quite austerely but moves to jazziness before becoming almost conversational. It is very fine.

The Lyrical Pickpocket, influenced by American folk songs, is an attractive and varied collection, very easy on the ear. The pieces go beyond simple rearrangement, and Go ’Way from My Window is wholly original, with some inspiration from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.

The rest of the disc is taken up by two song cycles, splendidly sung by Maria Jette. These songs depend very much on precise diction, and she sings with a clarity too often missing today. The songs themselves may best be described as quirky. Song Circle has verses by Stokes and his friends—verses are witty and not a little odd. Three of the Four Songs set texts by Hardy; the Western Wind is an anonymous Old English verse. The tone is generally more earnest, as befits the verse.

Overall, this is a useful introduction to a less well-known but not inferior twentieth century composer. Perhaps his reputation has been overshadowed by better-known contemporaries such as Reilly and Glass, possibly because of his attachment to the University of Minnesota where he remained teaching for forty years, despite his work having champions in Dennis Russell Davies and David Zinman.

Performances are committed, notes excellent, recording quality very clear. A bonus is that the scores are embedded in the CD and may be read via computer.

Michael Wilkinson

Previous review: Dominy Clements



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