Classical CD Reviews

PAUL LANSKY “Threads” – Sō Percussion (Eric Beach, Jason Treuting, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski) – Cantaloupe Music

These “Threads” woven well in a tight performance by leading edge percussionists.

Published on August 15, 2011

PAUL LANSKY: “Threads” – Sō Percussion (Eric Beach, Jason Treuting, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski) – Cantaloupe Music CA21064, 28:11 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Sō Percussion was formed in 1999 and – as stated in their website bio – has been creating music that explores all the extremes of emotion and musical possibility ever since.  Called an “experimental powerhouse” by the Village Voice, “astonishing and entrancing” by Billboard Magazine, and “brilliant” by the New York Times, the Brooklyn-based quartet’s innovative work with today’s most exciting composers and their own original music has quickly helped them forge a unique and diverse career. David Lang, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and co-founder of New York’s Bang on a Can, composed their first commissioned piece, “the so-called laws of nature”.  Sō Percussion’s recording of “the so-called laws of nature” became the cornerstone of their self-titled debut album on Cantaloupe Music (the record label from the founders of Bang on a Can).  In subsequent years, this relationship would blossom into a growing catalogue of exciting releases that consistently expands the body of work for percussion ensemble both in quantity as well as quality. “Threads” by Paul Lansky makes this new disc by Sō Percussion a perfect example of that work and dedication.

Paul Lansky is a former student of George Perle and is currently a professor of music composition at Princeton University. Lansky had developed a reputation as a pioneer in the development of computer music languages for algorithmic composition and other very interactive electronic composing media. He had also studied with Milton Babbitt and Edward Cone. Over the past twenty years his music has taken a turn towards acoustic sources and tonal centers. “Threads” is a very engaging example of this new style.

Lansky states in his own program notes that “Threads, written for Sō Percussion in 2005, is a half-hour long ‘cantata’ for percussion quartet in ten short movements. There are three ‘threads’ that are interwoven in the piece: Arias and Preludes that focus on the metallic pitched sounds of vibraphones, glockenspiel and pipes; Choruses in which drumming predominates; and Recitatives made largely from Cage-like noise instruments, bottles, flower pots, crotales, etc. The aim of the different threads is to highlight the wide range of qualities that percussion instruments are capable of, from lyrical and tender to forceful and aggressive, and weave them into one continuous ‘thread’. The movements are performed without interruption.”

I found this is a very engaging work. There is a propulsive nature that lies in contrast to some of the floating, meditative timbres that can be had from a battery of mixed percussion. I always found percussion ensembles a very “fun” sound to listen and, frequently, full of technique and virtuosity to be admired.  Interestingly, and to Lansky’s credit, the sections do adhere to a somewhat traditional cantata format and the recitatives—for example—showcase individual players or like groups of instruments very well. The music is quite pleasant to listen to. (The second “chorus” and the closing “prelude” are highlights for me.)  Really, one of the best reasons to get this disc is not even Paul Lansky’s “Threads”, very attractive work though it is. It is to become acquainted with Sō Percussion. This group is comprised of four extremely dedicated performers who have a clear simpatico with each other and an obvious dedication to promoting new music for percussion. Their playing is clear, tight and impressive.

Kudos to Cantaloupe Music and the creative minds at Bang on a Can (Michael Gordon, David Lang, et al) for producing a wide variety of wonderful contemporary music performed so vibrantly as in this recording!   I am positive that percussionists and anyone enjoying something new and pleasant would enjoy this greatly!

— Daniel Coombs

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