Into the Silence: Nicholas DiEugenio, violin, & Mimi Solomon, piano. Jesse Jones (b.1978): In Dulcet Tones (2013); Tonia Ko (b.1988): Plush Earth in Four Pieces for Violin and Piano (2014); Robert Palmer (1915-2010): Sonata for Violin and Piano (1956); & Steven Stucky (1949-2016): Sonata for Violin and Piano (2016). New Focus Recordings, © 2017, TT 76:28; $17.99 from Arkiv Music; download $9.99, from New Focus.
Armed only with the knowledge that the program of this recording features two performers and four composers who were all interconnected at a given c. five-year period in Ithaca, NY, at the foot of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes region, and that it sought to evoke this ‒ both the interconnections and the place ‒ and, dedicated to Stucky, as a tribute to his memory, without reading any of the accompanying documentation, I popped the CD into my player to see if I, who know the place, because I was born near the foot of the next lake to the West, Seneca, and have had a continuous, if intermittent connection to the area throughout my life, could detect or sense this.
Some of the melodic cells and motifs of the opening work, by Jones, made me think immediately of the sunlight sparkling on the waters of the lakes nestled in the valleys between the hills, a good beginning for what becomes a full-scale multi-faceted soundscape evoking events, patterns, and scenes, all tonal and harmonious. Motifs in the works call to mind running water trickling or flowing in streams down those hills, creatures skittering in fields and on forest floors, or birds twittering in expanses of sky, none of this by attempted imitation or reproduction, but all by evocation or suggestion. This is just a violin and a piano, and no woodwinds are involved, after all, but these were real images for me.
As the music – all are first recordings – progresses in generally reverse musical genealogical order to the three-movement Stuckey, then the four-part (I: Part; II: Jewel; III: Part; IV: Mud) Ko, and ending with the four-movement Palmer, each work seeming to seamlessly pick up where the previous one left off, I could follow these sounds and motifs and discern things that spoke to my sense/feel of the region, where the inhabitants understand in a way that people in many other areas, especially urban ones, do not necessarily, that Man does not and cannot control or dominate Nature but needs to learn to live in tune with her, in a way that its original inhabitants understood before European explorers and settlers arrived. The town where I was born was the site of the village of a tribe headed by "Queen Catherine Montour," who met those Europeans, learned their languages, and was who we today call the first American interpreter and translator, a profession in which I, too, practiced. There are elements of the music ‒ sustained notes, repeated cells, patterns, and tones ‒ that speak this eternal truth to me, too, the sudden cloudbursts, summer rain with thunder and lightning and winter snow, and their powerful effects on the landscape (floods have been frequent) and its people, things that repeat from year to year, decade to decade. There is an overall feeling of respect for nature and of a search for harmony in living in tune with it that exudes from the tones and rhythms.
After that first hearing, I read the documentation (some details in the above listing: some dates, TT, as well as the name of the artist who provided the cover, and the instrumentarium, are missing, which told me this is likely a first-outing in CD production) in the accompanying booklet, and I learned that Palmer taught Stucky who taught Jones and Ko, successively, not simultaneously, and understood why, while listening without following the track listing, I had immediately known when I was hearing the music of different composers, but that they were all members of the same musical family. The moves from one to the other are logical and smooth, and it all leads to the mountain-top finale that brought to my mind the music of the Romantic-era composers who focused in some of their works on attempting to evoke nature seen with sounds made, a goal music had not previously systematically sought, but sometimes putting them into the dance-like rhythms of an earlier time, and from which these composers are innately, inherently descended, increasingly modern though their expression of it may be as the generations pass, so the program is beautifully and pleasingly built – and played.
The whole struck me as all-of-a-piece, with varied colors, patterns, and sounds, making me think of a "crazy quilt" in which pieces of different colors and shapes are fitted together without an overall pattern in a rectangular whole that does not depict a single scene or regularly repeat the same pattern but is akin to looking at a landscape of cultivated fields, forests, and lakes from an airplane window, a thing of beauty to see/view, random diversity adding up to an attractive and enjoyable whole.
The album's title is the beginning of l. 4 of Part V of T. S. Eliot's "Burnt Norton," the first of his Four Quartets, whose first twelve lines are printed on p. 4 (pages are un-numbered), the reverse of the publishing and recording credits page, which faces the track listings on p. 2. This also spoke to me immediately: Eliot's Compete Poems and Plays 1909-1950 was the first such book I ever purchased as an undergrad, when he was one of my favorite poets ‒ he still is, along with Emily Dickinson; and in late 2014 I attended a performance of all 1,000 lines of this four-part free-verse work recited (from memory) by a touring actor, parts interspersed between the four movements of Beethoven's Op. 132 string quartet performed by local musicians in the Smith College Chapel, which appears to be a quintessential New England church, but is in fact a 1950s imitation, because, unlike the other famous colleges in this area, Amherst and Mount Holyoke, Smith never had a religious affiliation (and must for some reason have felt then that it needed such a building to be perceived as complete), now transformed into a performance space with chairs rather than pews. The texts reflect on time and words and music; this music does, too.
Pages 5 and 6 contain a note from the performers about the genesis and purpose of the project, and pages 7-9 offer bios of them and the composers; pages 11-12 reprint "Remembering Robert Moffat Palmer," a tribute by Steven Stucky that appeared on New Music Box after his death on July 3, 2010, with a glaring typo in its June 6, 2010, dateline, since it ends with July 6, 2010!
All of these personal connections have made this CD attractive to me, but as a reviewer, I am charged with giving an objective and impersonal assessment of it, insofar as anyone can detach from past experiences, as well as informing the reader in advance, so that s/he can understand its virtues and shortcomings to decide whether or not to purchase it. Objectively, this is minimalist music, and there aren't any gimmicks, so you can conjure up whatever scene or narrative it inspires or just listen and enjoy, but it is seriously constructed abstract evocation, not sappy New Age Muzak. Therefore, in spite of the errors and omissions in its documentation, and in view of the perspective I have that many readers likely do not, I can declare that the product has met the goals of its participants and I can heartily endorse this recording, giving it 5 of 5 stars or 10 of 10, as other sites are wont to do.