Notable Women (CD review)

Music by Auerbach, Garrop, Higdon, Schwendinger, Thomas, and Tower. Lincoln Trio.  Cedille Records CDR 900000 126.

When I first read the title of this album, I'm afraid my regrettable male-chauvinist bias surfaced, and I looked forward to listening to it with about as much enthusiasm as watching a movie on the Lifetime Channel. However, after glancing at the contents, I noticed one of the composers was Jennifer Higdon, an artist I admired, so it gave me encouragement to proceed.

The album contains works by six female composers, all of the pieces brief, the longest one lasting about nineteen minutes, and played by the Lincoln Trio (Desiree Ruhstrat, violin; David Cunliffe, cello; and Marta Aznavoorian, piano).

Things begin with the world-premiere recording of the Trio for violin, cello and piano (1992/1996) by Lera Auerbach. The brief Prelude is rather mysterious and a little disturbing in its eerie strains.  The Andante that follows is sweetly melancholic and oddly comforting, the opposite of the first movement. The concluding Presto changes the mood entirely in its heavily accented, pulsating rhythms. Here, the middle section recalls the opening movement, returning us briefly to the same enigmatic mood that started the work. It gradually intensifies again and ends triumphantly. Although the work is short at under a dozen minutes, it makes a good curtain raiser, especially as the Lincoln Trio play it, with appropriate enthusiasm.

The next selection, also a world-premiere recording, is Seven (1997-98), a collection of seven interconnected segments by Stacy Garrop. The composer says the Borg of the TV series Star Trek Voyager partially inspired her, so you can sort of guess at the tone of the music. I would have thought there was at least a touch of David Fincher's mystery thriller Se7en in there, too, given the music's mood and the kid of unusual aural effects Ms. Garrop's strives to achieve. The Lincoln Trio appear to be having fun with its often bizarre contents, and folks who enjoy modern music are sure to enjoy it.

From the only name with which I was familiar, Jennifer Higdon, comes the two-movement Piano Trio (2003). Compared to the first couple of compositions on the disc, Ms. Higdon's music seems positively old-fashioned and Romantic, which, by the way, I count as a good thing. In "Pale Yellow" and "Fiery Red" she attempts to characterize colors in music, with the results we might expect: one segment buttery smooth, the other brilliantly flashy. Again, the Lincoln Trio get a chance to display their virtuosity.

After that is another world-premiere recording, C'e la Luna Questa Sera? ("Is There a Moon Tonight?" 1998-2006), by Laura Elise Schwendinger. I confess it did not move me in any particular way, despite the rhapsodic manner in which it unfolds. Ms. Schwendinger intended the work to reflect the moonlight on Lake Como, surely a beautiful sight, but for how long might one continue enthralled by it in music? She gives it a pretty good shot, though.

Augusta Read Thomas provides the next selection, Moon Jig (2005), another piece of music inspired by the moon but this one more rhythmically intense than Ms. Schwendinger's. I'm afraid, however, that it, too, left me somewhat underwhelmed, notwithstanding its enthusiastic presentation.

The program ends with the world-premiere recording of Joan Tower's Trio Cavany (2007). She named the work after the home states of the people who commissioned it: the La Jolla Music Society in California, the Virginia Arts Festival, and the Chamber Music Society of New York. Talk about esoteric. What it does best is provide each of the three players in the Lincoln Trio a chance to shine in the spotlight, and each of them glows radiantly.

The question with most new music is how often one anticipates going back to it. Certainly, while I'm glad to have heard all the music on the disc, I can't say I'm too eager for a return listen anytime soon. It's music on which one must concentrate, and I'm not sure I'm ready for it just yet.

The sound, which Cedille engineer Bill Maylone recorded at Bennett-Gordon Hall at Ravina, Highland Park, Illinois, in 2010 and 2011, is realistic in its capturing a natural room resonance. The sonics come across refined and lifelike, with a soft, warm, ambient bloom around each instrument.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa