Classical CD Reviews

VIVIAN ADELBERG RUDOW, “Sound Portraits” = Orchestral, Chamber and Electro-Acoustical music – London Philharmonic Orch./ Jeffrey Silberschlag/ Orch. of St. John’s/ Ronald Mutchnik/ various soloists/ Vivian Adelberg Rudow, electronics – MSR Classics

A very mixed bag of some wholly unique and eccentric music.

Published on June 15, 2013

VIVIAN ADELBERG RUDOW, “Sound Portraits” = (TrackList follows) Orchestral, Chamber and Electro-Acoustical music – London Philharmonic Orch./ Jeffrey Silberschlag/ Orch. of St. John’s/ Ronald Mutchnik/ various soloists/ Vivian Adelberg Rudow, electronics – MSR Classics 1308, 70:25 (1/24/13) [Distr. by Albany] **1/2:

I am really not sure how to characterize this music; or whether I liked it. I did like some of the pieces. Vivian Adelberg Rudow is – according to her bio – a “sound portrait painter whose performances have been successful because her music expresses emotion, life experiences and the hopes and dreams of everyday people.” Tall order, but many composers seek to express very personal experiences in their music.

It is really easy to caught up in – or distracted by – some of the catchy, occasionally bizarre, titles to the works herein and some of the equally clever, bizarre – bordering on cliché – blend of aleatoric devices, found sound sources, traditional methods, borrowed musical extracts and electronic inflections in many of these works. Adelberg Rudow (who goes by Vickie), a Baltimore area composer, is a graduate of the Peabody Institute and has garnered many accolades. It is undeniable that she is talented and her music is, indeed, eccentric and covers vast amounts of stylistic territory. In listening to this disc, twice, I found it beneficial to examine both the themes that run through her music and then to focus on those pieces that left a strong impression.

First, many of her pieces seem to stem from very personal experiences, especially loss. John’s Song, The Bare Smooth Stone of Your Love, Rebecca’s Rainbow, Dawn’s Journey and The Healing Place all were written to commemorate people who have died (!) as young as eighteen months and deep into adulthood and from causes ranging from accident to suicide. I will not even speculate what so many close acquaintances with mortality have meant to the composer. There is also a really strong ecology/ New Age/holistic thing happening in pieces like Call for Peace, The Healing Place and – of course – Go Green!

Stylistically, Ms. Adelberg Rudow’s music is all over the map. It echoes jazz, Cubano, Saint-Saens, nineteenth-century parlor music and New Age. I really meant I was not sure where to begin. So, let me comment on just a few pieces that I had a clear opinion on. The first work on this disc is the orchestral showpiece, Spirit of America – Urbo Turbo (Urban Turbulence). (Titling with Vicky’s music is, for me, another topic.) Did not like it. At all. Sorry. Rudow describes the structure of the work as like “channel surfing” in which there can be audience and orchestra cheering (or not), with or without choir and the music echoes several different cultural styles, intended as vignettes (in which the composer wants to present an “optimistic musical sound-quilt of contemporary life… many people have happy lives .. some ignore the needs of the poor”. I get it.) I found it wildly disjointed and a bit annoying. Again, sorry.

On to Cuban Lawyer Juan Blanco.  Didn’t care for this too much either. This is basically recorded quotes of the person being paid homage (who, I’m sure has done some nice things for his community) against some percussion, electronic sound effects and neo-Latin sound bits; all of which do not stand up either without Blanco’s words nor in strong, coherent support of those words.

Go Green! is apparently a jazzy, Cubano-ish work for flute and orchestra with a very obvious eco message (hence the title) and inspired by the people “who enthusiastically help clean up streams, parks and waterways.” As a flute piece this is clever and easy on the ears; as a message work (is it?) I don’t see the connection at all (and why the shouting at the downbeat; can’t tell even what the declamation was). Sara Nichols, flutist, plays very well.

Moo-Moo Gipan (spelling of the Asian dish?) Smash! Why? This is a too-short pastiche that did nothing for me even as a would be strong example of electronic music.

So; the pieces I did rather enjoy are The Bare Smooth Stone of Your Love for cello and piano that sounded very pretty but so totally unlike anything else on this disc and channels Saint-Saens at one point; but nicely. Stephen Kates plays the cello line with feeling and dexterity. Rebecca’s Rainbow Racing Among the Stars and the subsequent Rebecca’s Song for piano are neo-Romantic, Chopin-esque flourishes that have the very serious context mentioned above (the death of a child) Very pretty and somewhat poignant. Jeffrey Chappell and Eric Conway, the pianists, play very well throughout.

I also somewhat enjoyed The Healing Place, with references to heaven, the beyond and so forth. Inspired by a poem by Grace Cavalieri, I found this work to be walking a line – very tenuously – between New Age and classical. Why the taped narration? It actually hurts the work and made it sound like a nice soundtrack to an otherwise cheesy self-help video. The score says the narrator is optional. I say lose it.

The other works on this disc really didn’t do too much for me one way or the other. Sure, the other works are – in my opinion – generally likable or generally dislikable but just didn’t leave much impression.

So; Vivian Adelberg Rudow and her music seem like a pretty complicated, multi-faceted set of affairs. I found some of the titles, some of the “meaning” and some of the resultant sounds themselves to be a pretentious pastiche. The better pieces are those that reside in a clear, easy-to-define style: romance, jazz, easy listening; whatever. Each of these works probably succeeds in some way in its own “niche market”   I just thought, as whole product, this collection was a very mixed outcome and does not tell us enough about Ms. Rudow as a composer.


  1. Spirit of America – orchestra
  2. John’s Song – trumpet, keyboard, electronics
  3. John’s Song – Variation I – piano
  4. The Bare Smooth Stone of Your Love – cello, piano
  5. Rebecca’s Rainbow Racing Among the Stars – piano
  6. Rebecca’s Song – piano
  7. Go Green! – flute and orchestra
  8. Cuban lawyer, Juan Bianco – recorded speaker, percussion, electronics
  9. Dawn’s Journey – recorded speaker, recorded music, electronics
  10. Call for Peace – flute, electronics
  11. The Healing Place – flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, electronics
  12. Moo-Moo Gipan Smash! – electronic

—Daniel Coombs

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