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Harry PARTCH (1901-1974)
Sonata Dementia - Music of Harry Partch - Volume 3
Ulysses at the Edge of the World - A Minor Adventure in Rhythm [6:20]
Twelve Intrusions [26:38]
Windsong [19:03]
Sonata Dementia [9:21]
Bonus Material
Traditional - Cancion de Los Muchachos [1:47]
Recorded 1904
Barstow: Eight Hitchhikers' Inscriptions from a Highway Railing at Barstow, California [11:47]
Recorded live by Harry Partch, Eastman School New York 1942
Partch (ensemble)
rec. 2017/2018, Disney Hall/REDCAT, Los Angeles; Crean Recital Hall, Chapman University, Orange, USA
BRIDGE 9525 [75:05]

Harry Partch was one of the “American Pioneers”, as Alan Rich described him in his book of that title. He was more than just a composer and music theorist – he was also a multi-instrumentalist and inventor, often creating the instrument he needed to achieve the particular sound world he sought. Rich went on to say that “Most of America’s musical pioneers absorbed some part of the established musical traditions before they set out to destroy them. Partch seems to have known, almost from the start, where he was heading. Since his instruments were mostly one-of-a-kind, almost always created to perform a specific work, his music did not circulate widely during most of his lifetime, except on recordings.” Indeed, this is my first CD of his music, although I have known his music for some time and have downloaded recordings of the two works that made his name later in his career, The Bewitched and the fascinating Revelation in the Courthouse Park, which is probably not the best introduction to his music.

The music presented here is inventive and, for the most part, unusual to say the least. It offers a combination of narrative sections, delivered mainly in a sing/speak style with instrumental sounds from which is often difficult to discern what instrument is being played. The result is a quite remarkable audible experience, quite different from anything you might have heard before, although Partch’s influence can be seen on the likes of Nick Cave. It inhabits a world in classical music that is unique to Partch. Strange harmonics combine with the sounds of the invented instruments to provide an experience unlike any other. There are short periods where you think his music may be linked to the Californian music scene of the likes of Terry Riley, but then you realise that Partch predates him and his music. In any case, Partsch is soon off in a totally different direction, one that sets him apart from the rest.

The opening work on this disc, Ulysses at the Edge of the World - A Minor Adventure in Rhythm, acts as a good introduction to the disc and to Partch’s music in general. Its use of recognisable percussion and western instruments mixed with repeated staccato vocal lines, combined with sounds from less recognizable instruments as well as narration, leads, as the title suggests, to rhythmic, not overtly melodic, but always interesting results. It is in the Twelve Intrusions, however, that the true uniqueness of Partch comes to the fore. It sounds Japanese at times and is, for me, the most interesting work on the disc. The disc concludes with two bonus items, the second of which is a recording of Partch himself delivering, it would be wrong to say singing, his Barstow, from a live recording of 1942. It is chiefly interesting for its glimpses of Partch’s humour in his introduction to the work.

The recording is excellent with the performers giving a committed and engaging performance. Even the 1942 recording has been wonderfully remastered comes up well. The information in the booklet gives an excellent introduction to Partch and his music. This disc would serve as a good introduction to Partch’s music for any fan of American music, especially that off the beaten track. It certainly makes me want to hear the previous recordings in this series.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: Dominy Clements

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