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Notable Women: Lera Auerbach, Trio for violin, ’cello, and piano (1992/1996); Stacy Garrop, Seven for piano trio (1997-98); Jennifer Higdon, Piano Trio (2003); Laura Elise Schwendinger, C’è la luna questa sera? (1998/2006); Augusta Reed Thomas, Moon Jig (2005); Joan Tower, Trio Cavany (2007); Lincoln Trio: Desirée Ruhstrat, violin, David Cunliffe, ’cello, Marta Aznavoorian, piano; Çedille CD 90000 126, © 2011, TT 67:20, $16.00.
Four of the six works on this CD are recorded here for the first time. One of those was commissioned and composed for these performers who also premièred it, and a second is a transcription by its composer for and dedicated to them of a work originally written for violin, ’cello, and percussion – the piano is a percussion instrument, after all. A third work, the Higdon, is dedicated to the composer of a fourth, Joan Tower. Two others, the Schwendinger and the Thomas, have very differing associations with the moon. These are some of the interconnections within this fine and interesting CD of varied recent compositions, some resulting from commissions (Tower’s by three organizations, the ZIP Code abbreviations of whose states of location produced its title, which has nothing to do with its content), and others from serendipitous inspiration, by American women composers. Auerbach is the sole non-native-born one, having defected from the Soviet Union while on tour here shortly before its fall. All were composed within the past two decades, all copyrighted since the turn of the millennium.
The works are all eminently tonal, with nothing that grates on the ears, but very different from each other, some energetic, some with dramatic narrative elements (without being programmatic), others more quiet and contemplative, meditative even, some occasionally a bit ‘edgy,’ others calling for interesting and unusual sounds. They are presented in alphabetical order that also happens to be a logical one building to the longest, which has a climactic ending. Auerbach’s is the most traditionally structured piece, in the standard three movements, although it was written in two spurts of inspiration some four years apart; the end of its first movement, Prelude, calls for the violin to make sounds that imitate crying seagulls, to cite an example of the aforementioned unusual sounds. The Garrop has a literary and a visual inspiration with a numerical/numerological internal interconnection: Anne Sexton’s poem “Seven Times” and the Star Trek Voyager character, the Borg named Seven of Nine; the music has an outer-space-like character. The Higdon is a synesthetic experience: its two movements are entitled “Pale Yellow” and “Fiery Red” – yes, they do make you visualize these colors through their harmonies and rhythms. The Schwendinger is a Debussy-like sonic painting of a moment in time: a moonlit evening; it was composed during her stay in Ballagio on Lake Como on a Rockefeller grant and inspired by her observations of the play of the moonlight on the water. The Thomas is, as its title suggests, a dance, a modern update of the gigue, with jerky, asymmetrical movements, whose rhythm is set by the piano and flow controlled by the strings. The Tower is a 20-minute single-movement piece that gives each instrument lots of solo opportunities that are linked by ensemble work.
The performances are sterling: the Lincoln Trio is a persuasive ambassador for all of these works, giving performances that are eminently listenable, thoroughly enjoyable, and stand up to multiple listenings, even when the novelty of the previously unknown works has worn off and their sounds and twists and turns have become expected/anticipated. The recording venue was the Bennett-Gordon Hall at Ravinia in Highland Park, IL. The sound quality is superb.
The accompanying booklet includes 10.5 pages of excellent and informative program notes cleverly written by Andrea Lamoreaux, music director of Chicago’s WFMT, incorporating statements by each of the composers that chronicle the origin or inspiration, conception, and genesis of the works followed by Lamoreaux’s description of their components, structure, and developmental progression. They follow the credits presented on the inside of the front cover, which features a photo of the trio (violinist and ’cellist are a couple), and the track listings with timings on page 3. These are followed in turn by a single-page-equivalent verbal portrait of the trio accompanied by another color photo, and four pages of bios of the composers. The back cover features other Çedille CDs that include Lincoln Trio performances.
It may perhaps on the surface seem a bit overblown, but it would not be surprising to me if this important and significant release became one day retrospectively regarded as having been a memorable recording milestone for both its content and its quality. This CD is an alignment of stars – composers and performers – in a moonlit sky. There are other CDs of music by women composers on the market, but this one stands out in the gathering, even if it isn’t a crowd.