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American Music for Percussion, Vol. 1

> Pulling Radishes - Pulling Radishes
> Splendid Wood - Splendid Wood
> El dia de los Muertos - El dia de los Muertos
> Grand Concerto for Percussion and Keyboards - I. Slow accelerating to fast
> Grand Concerto for Percussion and Keyboards - II. Slow
> Grand Concerto for Percussion and Keyboards - III. Fast, a Scherzo
> Grand Concerto for Percussion and Keyboards - IV. Introduction (cadenza-like) - Allegro (Perpetuum Mobile)

Album Summary

>Tower, Joan [Composer] : DNA, for percussion quintet
>Sandler, Felicia : Pulling Radishes, for percussion ensemble
>Higdon, Jennifer : Splendid Wood, for 3 marimbas
>Rodriguez, Robert Xavier : El dia de los muertos, for 8 percussionists
>Schuller, Gunther : Grand Concerto, for percussion ensemble, celeste, piano & harp
Conductors Ensemble
  • >

Notes & Reviews:

Scored for as few as three marimbas (Splendid Wood) or as many as a hundred percussion instruments plus celesta, harp and piano (Grand Concerto), these five striking works by contemporary American composers abound in fascinating rhythms, ingenious combinations and juxtapositions of unusual instruments. Joan Tower's DNA is built around pairs of instruments which, like the base pairs of DNA, contrive to make a whole work. Pulling Radishes was inspired by the measure and meaning of a 19th century one-sentence Japanese poem. El dia de los muertos is a playful and nostalgic programmatic work based on the Mexican folk holiday, when the souls of the dead return to cavort with their living relatives in a joyous fiesta.

MusicWeb International
What a pleasant surprise this turned out to be. I certainly didn't expect music of such consistent quality and imagination. Even more impressive is the fine musicianship of these New Englanders, whose playing is very well captured by the recording team. Another niche-filler from Naxos.

American Record Guide
... Joan Tower's DNA is a listenable representation of the physical structure of DNA. Felicia Sandler's Pulling Radishes - the title comes from a short Japanese poem, translated in the booklet as "The man pulling radishes pointed the way with a radish" comprises small rhythmic motives and interesting color changes, and is one of the most effective works on the record. Splendid Wood, by Jennifer Higdon, is called by the composer "a celebration of the splendor of the marimba". And that it is - the beautiful sound of the instruments (three marimbas) takes center stage, though the piece is well written and Higdon knows how to exploit the instruments' idiosyncrasies. Robert Xavier Rodriguez's El Dia de los Muertos is inspired by the Mexican "day of the dead". It is a work for eight percussionists that evokes a somber mood...

MusicWeb International
At 25 minutes veteran composer and conductor Gunther Schuller's Grand Concerto is by far the longest work here. In four movements it's as much about exploring textures as it is about varying pulses; the range of this piece is remarkably wide, the splash of piano and shiver of gongs adding to Schuller's eclectic - and sometimes trenchant - sound-world. I didn't warm to the concerto at first - it doesn't have the instant, atavistic appeal of El dia de los Muertos - but repeated hearings have persuaded me of its virtues, not least the sustained level of inspiration that keeps one engrossed to the very end. Once again, the quality of playing and recording is exceptional.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston, MA.


Great beginning to a fascinating series
"American Music for Percussion, vol. 1" with the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble is a terrific start to what should be a great series! There are hundreds of ensemble works out there for multiple percussion, many of which were intended for collegiate or instructional use. The best thing about this set is that these are high quality works written by "name" composers whose output is normally concert hall or orchestral material. Joan Tower's "DNA" for a quintet playing multiple instruments, largely unpitched, is so titled because of its structure that relies on pairings of instruments and of motives that weave and blend to form larger structures. It is a very active and exciting work that becomes quite complex and really tests the ensemble. Felicia Sandler is a new name for me and her "Pulling Radishes" which takes its title from a one line Japanese poem. Sandler treats the concept of the poem in somewhat wry fashion using drum sticks as a metaphor for radishes. Her use of the exact number of letters in the poem - 45 - as an organizational device is also quite clever and helps to create the various rhythmic motives found in the piece. Not being a percussionist, I admit to liking - and understanding - pitch and melody and pieces where pitch rows and tonal centers of any sort abound. Therefore, I especially enjoyed Jennifer Higdon's "Splendid Wood", a completely buoyant and propulsive work for three marimbas with six players. Higdon calls this a "celebration" of the splendor of the marimba and the timbre of the wood percussion. A very engaging and fun work to listen to! "El dia de los muertos" by Robert Rodriguez does have its roots in the folk music and atmosphere surrounding the "Day of the Dead" Through the use of some authentic folk melodies and their permutations, Rodriguez creates a captivating, atmospheric sound throughout. The biggest piece in this set is the Gunther Schuller "Grand Concerto" for percussion and keyboards. This large, four movement work uses eight players, plus a harp, celesta and piano Its scale and impulse reminded me a bit of the Bartok "Concerto" for two pianos and percussion - only bigger! This is an exciting and truly demanding work All of these works, to me, were new and in a genre that I am familiar with but I found it terrific! The NEC Ensemble under the direction of Frank Epstein is very skilled and clearly puts energy and heart into their playing. I am anxious to hear additional collections in this series and - once again - applaud Naxos for delivering great music that might not otherwise get recorded to our attention!
Submitted on 05/25/11 by Dan Coombs 
First in a very creative series
The New England Conservatory is the oldest independent music school in the country, and their percussion ensemble has begun a wonderful series of recordings of percussion works by living American composers. Tuned and untuned instruments are used in these five works (the first four are single-movement pieces, the last is a four-movement work for percussion and keyboards). All of the compositions are unique to this disc, so no need to worry about duplicate recordings of any of these remarkable pieces. The second volume of the series will be released only a month after this disc. 'El día de los muertos' by Rodríguez was especially intriguing. Prepare yourself if you have the volume turned up - the dynamics change throughout. The CD was expertly engineered, and anyone listening in headphones will get a great listening experience!
Submitted on 05/28/11 by mwilcox15 
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Works Details

>Tower, Joan [Composer] : DNA, for percussion quintet
  • Conductor: Frank Epstein
  • Running Time: 9 min. 58 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2003

>Sandler, Felicia : Pulling Radishes, for percussion ensemble
  • Conductor: Frank Epstein
  • Running Time: 7 min. 21 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2007

>Higdon, Jennifer : Splendid Wood, for 3 marimbas
  • Running Time: 11 min. 35 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2006

>Rodriguez, Robert Xavier : El día de los muertos, for 8 percussionists
  • Conductor: Frank Epstein
  • Running Time: 12 min. 53 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 08/2006

>Schuller, Gunther : Grand Concerto, for percussion ensemble, celeste, piano & harp
  • Conductor: Gunther Schuller
  • Running Time: 24 min. 41 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Form: Concerto
  • Written: 2005