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Augusta Read THOMAS (b. 1964)
Ritual Incantations
No recording details given
NIMBUS NI6355 [77:59]

This release marks the seventh collection of music by Thomas from the Nimbus stable, though I must admit to it being the first I have heard; I first became aware of Augusta Read Thomas’ music through a disc of American music performed by the Ying Quartet (QTZ2005) which featured her piece Eagle at Sunrise, since when I have downloaded some selected works, but this is my first disc dedicated to her music, and the breadth of output here shows what I have been missing.

The first work featured is her second of three cello concertos, whichis the piece that gives this disc its title. ‘Ritual Incantations’ is the only work I know on this disc, with this performance originally featuring on an Artistled disc from 2015 (28822-8). This is an enthralling work and one that is a good example of her graphic way of composition, Thomas does not only use notes on the stave in her music, but symbols and even different pens to emphasise how the passage should sound. David Finckel certainly takes this on board as his performance and that of the Taipei Symphony Orchestra is exciting and colourful.

The second work is Chi, another piece for string quartet; as mentioned I became interested in Thomas through a string quartet, and the Argus Quartet’s YouTube performance of Sun Threads, a much longer work for quartet, is probably my favourite online work of hers. Chi is less than half the length, but packs some real intensity and passion, with its four movements named after aspects of the life force. The Spektral Quartet gives an engaging, exciting and fully committed performance, one which helps to clearly identify Thomas as a master of the art form.

The most recent work on the disc is Qi, composed in July 2017; it is written for four percussionists playing two marimbas. The booklet notes state that here Thomas is in “fun-and games mode” and the piece is certainly enjoyable and vibrant. The Third Coast Percussion players also seem to be enjoying the piece as they give a performance full of life and zest.

Angel Tears and Earth Prayers bring together the unusual coupling of saxophone and organ, but here it works. These two pieces were originally composed for the more usual, but still rare, trumpet and organ, and designed for use during church services. The two instruments work well together, with both the pieces having a meditative quality that would work well in church.

The Piano Trio, Klee Musings, is the longest work on this disc, with its three movements being inspired by the artist Paul Klee, with each of the movements conjuring up different aspects of his art in the contrasting music. This is in many ways the most modern piece on the disc, with its unconventional use of the instruments leading to quite different, yet mesmerising interplay between the three of them. The Civitas Ensemble state their mission as being to present engaging performances of new music alongside the more traditional trio repertoire, something they achieve here as their performance certainly gets the best out of this music.

The two short pieces for solo cello, Rhea Enchanted and Venus Enchanted are given first class performances by Scott Kluksdahl, a performer new to me. Both these pieces are meditations on mythological figures, and work well together despite being composed as standalone works.

Dappled Things sets a text by the English poet and Jesuit Gerald Manley Hopkins, this is a strong text that deals with the glory of creation and the Glee Club are more than capable of bringing this wonderful setting to life.

The final pieces on this disc are the two Eurythmy Etudes for piano; they have the feel of Thomas’ earlier Etudes for piano. They have a jazz-like improvisational feel to them with the energetic ‘Motion Detector’ differing greatly from the cooler more reflective music of ‘Still Life’.

This disc makes an excellent introduction to the music of Augusta Read Thomas, as it not only introduces the listener to the different aspects of her compositional style for different sized ensembles, but it also presents the works so well too, with each work being given a first-rate performance. The recorded sound is very good as are the booklet notes, if you haven’t heard her music this is a fine place to start, or to add to your collection of the music of this vibrant and engaging composer.

Stuart Sillitoe

Cello Concerto No. 2, "Ritual Incantations" (1999) [13:17]
David Finckel (cello), Taipei Symphony Orchestra, Felix Chiu-Sen Chen
Chi (2017) [13:50]
Spektral Quartet
Qi (2017) [6:00]
Third Coast Percussion
Angel Tears and Earth Prayers (2006) [5:20]
Allen Harrington (saxophone), Lottie Enns-Braun (organ)
Klee Musings (2016) [16:32]
Civitas Ensemble.
Rhea Enchanted (version for cello) (2016) [5:56]
Venus Enchanted (version for cello) (2016) [6:07]
Scott Kluksdahl (cello)
Dappled Things (version for male chorus) (2015) [4:37]
The University of Notre Dame Glee Club
Eurythmy Etudes (2007) [6:05]
Lynn Raley (piano)



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