CHILD: Jubal; Adirondack Voices; Shanti.
Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil
BMOP Sound 1057 TT: 65:04.
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Not only over my head, but beyond my sight. Born and raised in Britain,
Peter Child has long resided in the United States, mostly in the Boston
area. He studied with Arthur Berger, Jacob Druckman, and Seymour Shifrin,
not to say that he sounds like any of them. Whatever influence they have
had has been a more abstract one, I would say confined to matters of craft.
A student year abroad to South India, however, made a stronger impression
on his music. Nevertheless, he doesn't engage in oriental pastiche but
at the deep level writes based on the structural principles of Karnatic
music. If I hadn't read it, I wouldn't have known.
His music, very well written indeed, contains startling, beautiful sounds,
great rhythmic invention, and a strong sense of argument. It's not especially
dissonant. Fans of Walter Piston or Leonard Bernstein would not be put
off. However, it's the kind of music I hate reviewing the most, since I
make absolutely no emotional connection to it or take interest in it. I
can find nothing especially insightful to say about it -- the curse of
the well-written piece. Your mileage, of course, may vary. Incidentally,
I feel this way about much of Mozart.
The concert overture Jubal refers to the Biblical inventor of the harp
and pipe, "the father of musicians." Take the title with a grain
of salt. Very little here, if anything, specifically designates any of
these things. I consider the score an overture, but Child regards it as
a cross between a one-movement symphony in four major sections and a concerto
for orchestra. To me, "symphony" seems a stretch, but "concerto" points
to the virtuosity required from orchestra. The major sections run fast-slow-fast-slow.
The first movement is a headlong rush of about a minute-and-a-half of "barbaric
yawps" over a pulsating motor, the second a sprightly, ambling intermezzo,
the third a scherzo that begins fugally, and the fourth -- the most remarkable
section of the work -- a slow dismantling of major ideas in the score.
The ideas seem forged from the same harmonic sound-world -- tonal, but
neither major nor minor, and within some exotic mode. Perhaps this may
be based on an Indian scale.
Adirondack Voices, commissioned by the Albany Symphony Orchestra, uses
three folk-tunes from upstate New State (one tune per movement) and seems
the least remarkable, despite its attractiveness, of the pieces on the
program. Vaughan Williams, Holst, Grainger, and Delius arrangements project
their strong artistic profiles. Child produces a score which, in spite
of some neat touches (I think especially of the introduction to the second
movement), seems fairly anonymous -- again, well-written but of transient
in my memory.
Shanti steps forward as the major work on the program, both in length and
ambition. Child conceives it around basic ragas and aesthetic principles
of South Indian music, particularly the general emotional content of these
ragas. I know so little about his models, I'm barely familiar with the
terms, so don't expect any deep insights from me. I can describe only how
the music affects me. I don't particularly "get" the emotions
designated in the score, but that's true of me and just about every "aesthetics
of emotion" or even synesthesia theory I've encountered. I'm hopelessly
stuck in the Western major-minor, happy-sad dichotomy. Again, the craft
comes first to notice. The musical variety and the freshness of sound and
expression also impress. Each of its eight short sections engages in some
sort of rhetorical drama. Yet once again, I fail to connect to it. I could
describe each section in detail, but it's better if you hear it for yourself.
Certainly Child has nothing to complain about from Gil Rose and the orchestra.
They play wonderfully, with commitment to these scores, and the sound is
superb. In general, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project has produced a
very distinguished series indeed, with care not only for the choosing and
performance of scores, but for such aspects as graphic design of the jackets
and the well-written program notes. This is one of the few discs they've
come up with that completely passed me by.
S.G.S. (November 2019)