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Thirteen Ways / Eighth Blackbird

> Petroushskates - Petroushskates
> Critical Moments 2 - I. dotted eighth note = 120
> Critical Moments 2 - II. quarter note: 104
> Critical Moments 2 - III. eighth note = 88
> Critical Moments 2 - IV. eighth note = 112
> Critical Moments 2 - V. quarter note = 88
> Critical Moments 2 - VI. dotted quarter note = 112
> Critical Moments 2 - VII. quarter note = 44
> Critical Moments 2 - VIII. quarter note = 63
> Critical Moments 2 - IX. dotted eighth note = 126
> Variations - Variations
> 13 Ways - I. Leaden, bleak
> 13 Ways - II. Aloof, persistent
> 13 Ways - III. Nimble, capricious
> 13 Ways - IV. Sensuous, relaxed
> 13 Ways - V. Feely, like a birdsong
> 13 Ways - VI. Subdued, but urgently
> 13 Ways - VII. Exuberant, but increasingly stodgy
> 13 Ways - VIII. Steady, rhythmic
> 13 Ways - IX. Spacious, detached
> 13 Ways - X. orotund, discordant
> 13 Ways - XI. Driving, relentless
> 13 Ways - XII. Seamless, expansive
> 13 Ways - XIII. Serene

Album Summary

>Tower, Joan [Composer] : Petroushkates for flute, violin, clarinet, cello & piano
>Perle, George : Critical Moments 2, for ensemble
>Schober, David : Variations for ensemble
>Albert, Thomas : Thirteen Ways, for ensemble
Performers Ensemble Composers

Notes & Reviews:

"Whether for reasons of economy or aesthetics, the chamber ensemble is the primary vehicle for contemporary classical music – witness the plethora of groups currently ‘doing the rounds’ in Western Europe and the North America. A definite musical persona is thus essential and, on the basis of this commercial recording début, eighth blackbird is carving out an identity both distinctive and engaging.

Petroushskates (1980) has long been a calling-card for Joan Tower, but its synthesis of minimalist figuration with a harmonic style owing more to Stravinsky than just surface allusions is an engaging one. This sextet arrangement by Allen Otte only enhances its suitability as a curtain-raiser. David Schober’s Variations (1998), however, is more a work for launching the second half: a sequence of fluid variations on a motif which steals by in the opening seconds, giving rise to atmospheric music that delights in – without drawing attention to – the subtlety and ingenuity of its own processes.

Having early coined the term ‘12-tone tonality’, George Perle has gained a reputation for serialism with a human face. Scored for a Pierrot Lunaire-ensemble in which voice is replaced by percussion, the nine movements of Critical Moments 2 (2001) throw up all manner of connections motivic and gestural. Listen especially to the ruminative eloquence of ‘III’, or the disjunct rhythms of ‘VIII’ – the 86-year-old composer in playful mood. Thomas Albert’s Thirteen Ways (1997) is also a sequence of short pieces, in homage to Wallace Stevens’ collection of blackbird epigrams. Evocative rather than concentrated, Albert’s music mirrors the sentiments of the poems in touching and gently humorous terms, though rather than preface each number with a reading of the verse, it would have been better to let them mingle freely in the listener’s mind.

Clear and well-balanced recorded sound, and a booklet which gives the composers’ and the players’ points of view in informal and informative terms. eighth blackbird is clearly a group to take note of – enjoy the present release, and look out for them should they turn up at a recital venue near you." -Gramophone

"Eighth Blackbird is an amazingly talented sextet consisting of flutes, clarinets, violin/viola, cello, percussion, and piano. The sound this highly versatile ensemble makes is extraordinary, from the most refined chamber textures to what at times sounds like a full orchestra. The four works included here cover a huge range of styles, and each one is well worth hearing. For this reason alone I would call this disc one of the most successful collections of contemporary chamber music since those equally marvelous Speculum Musicae recitals on Bridge, and that's saying quite a bit. The instrumental composition of the ensemble is itself so interesting as to make repeated listening a genuine pleasure, even when the music is (at times) difficult or unusual.

Joan Tower's delightful little homage to both Stravinsky and figure skating, Petroushskates, makes an effervescent curtain-raiser that brilliantly shows off the group's timbral range. It's followed by George Perle's Critical Moments 2. Now Perle is a committed 12-tone guy and our major expert on the music of Alban Berg, but despite the forbidding title the music turns out to be delightful, even charming. Much of it is unified by memorably distinct rhythmic figures that take on myriad tonal meanings as Perle puts them through their paces. The longest of the work's nine brief (around one minute or so) movements recalls the scene in Act 1 of Wozzeck in which the title character and his soldier friend gather sticks in a nearby field--there's the same haunting sense of pastoral desolation (the quiet snare drum rolls add a nicely atmospheric touch). The finale, with its game of rising and falling scales, may bring to mind the Danza de Jalisco from Copland's Three Latin American Sketches.

David Schober's Variations begin with some pitch bending and microtonal gestures, then the piece settles down to a series of highly colored vignettes that explore harmonic and textural changes. There is no "tune", not even in the sense that Perle has them, but for all that the music isn't at all difficult to follow, and the sounds that Schober conjures up are quite striking. Last, but certainly not least, is Thomas Albert's Thirteen Ways, based on Wallace Stevens' poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. A member of the ensemble reads each stanza of the poem, and then follows a brief movement of musical illustration. The poem, of course, is wonderful, but then so is the music, and the work's 28 minutes fly by like the proverbial bird that it describes. A more successful or seductive combination of words and music hasn't been attempted since Peter and the Wolf or Copland's A Lincoln Portrait.

As noted at the beginning of this paean of praise, the performances demonstrate simply the last word in ensemble virtuosity, and Cedille's perfectly gorgeous sonics elevate the entire production to "best of the year" status. Contemporary classical music starts out with so many strikes against it, and it's probably wishful thinking to hope that this disc will ever achieve anything like the recognition it deserves. But what matters most is the fact that it does deserve it, and anyone with open ears and a hankering for adventure will find far more to enjoy here than in yet another decent but not otherwise memorable release of some repertory warhorse. Try it, you'll like it." -Classics Today (10/10)

Notes & Reviews:

Personnel: Nicholas Photinos (cello); Michael J. Maccaferri (clarinet); Lisa Kaplan (piano); Matthew Duvall (percussion).

Recording information: Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Evanston, IL (07/13/2002-10/03/2002); Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center, SUNY Purcha (07/13/2002-10/03/2002).



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Works Details

>Tower, Joan [Composer] : Petroushkates for flute, violin, clarinet, cello & piano
  • Performers: Eighth Blackbird; Matt Albert (Violin); Matt Albert (Viola); Molly Barth (Flute); Matthew Duvall (Percussion); Lisa Kaplan (Piano); Michael Maccaferri (Clarinet); Nicholas Photinos (Cello)
  • Ensemble: eighth blackbird
  • Running Time: 5 min. 56 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1980
  • Studio/Live: Studio

>Perle, George : Critical Moments 2, for ensemble
  • Performers: Eighth Blackbird; Matt Albert (Viola); Matt Albert (Violin); Molly Barth (Flute); Matthew Duvall (Percussion); Lisa Kaplan (Piano); Michael Maccaferri (Clarinet); Nicholas Photinos (Cello)
  • Ensemble: eighth blackbird
  • Running Time: 10 min. 8 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Written: 2001
  • Studio/Live: Studio

>Schober, David : Variations for ensemble
  • Performer: Eighth Blackbird
  • Ensemble: eighth blackbird
  • Running Time: 9 min. 12 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1998

>Albert, Thomas : Thirteen Ways, for ensemble
  • Performer: Eighth Blackbird
  • Ensemble: eighth blackbird
  • Running Time: 26 min. 6 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1997