“Antares” – PETER LIEBERSON: Tashi Quartet; ROGER REYNOLDS: Shadowed Narrative – Antares – New Focus

by | Nov 16, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

“Antares” – Works by Lieberson & Reynolds = PETER LIEBERSON: Tashi Quartet; ROGER REYNOLDS: Shadowed Narrative – Antares (Garrick Zloeter, clarinet/ Jesse Mills, violin/Vesselin Gellev, violin /Rebecca Patterson, cello/Eric Huebner, piano) – New Focus Recordings FCR112 (Distr. by Naxos), 60:58 ****:
Antares is a wonderful new music ensemble whose instrumentation was inspired by that in the landmark work for the same combination, Quartet for the End of Time, by Olivier Messiaen. Since the Messiaen, there have been many high quality works written for this combination; many of which were composed specifically for the great ensemble “Tashi” founded in 1973 (Richard Stoltzman, Ida Kavafian, Fred Sherry and Peter Serkin). The two works on this disc, by Lieberson and Reynolds, were written for Tashi but not commercially recorded until now and Antares plays with such a conviction and style that their group hardly begs any comparison to the former. The one thing to note is that Jesse Mills performs the violin part in the Lieberson and Vesselin Gellev in the Reynolds; both extraordinary players.
The music is the compelling story. Peter Lieberson has typically – and more recently – written music that evokes tonality within a somewhat eastern context (many of his works show some Tibetan Buddhist influence) The Tashi Quartet, however, is a reflection of the composer’s first influence and love of Stravinsky with a twelve-tone vocabulary and a clear uncluttered approach to structure and rhythm. It is certainly not a static work, though. Rather, it is amazingly reflective and passionate—also trademarks of Lieberson’s music. The opening allegro is very dynamic and attention getting with its nervous energy characterized by tremolo passages in the strings, punctuated piano writing and some nearly minimalist touches. Another highlight for me is the fourth movement adagio tranquillo, characterized by a languid, pitch bending clarinet line and a mood, bordering on sadly pensive, that permeates the whole. The work concludes dramatically with some bold, syncopated accented ensemble writing that carries the work forward to a nervous, kinetic conclusion reminiscent of the opening bars of the work. This is a marvelous work that should be in the common repertoire for ensembles such as this.
Roger Reynolds and his music represent a fascinating but completely different aesthetic from Peter Lieberson. A student of Ross Lee Finney in Michigan and founder of the new music group ONCE, Reynolds has built a wide spread reputation for theatrically-inspired works and even computer-based sound sources. Over the years, he has claimed affinity for the philosophies and techniques of some known experimentalists, such as Varèse, Cage and Nancarrow. Reynolds’ music, therefore, sounds a bit eclectic and utilizes elements of pitch, rhythm, harmony and timbre in unusual ways. It would be wrong, however, to approach his Shadowed Narrative, heard here, with trepidation. This work is representative of another of Reynolds’ passions; writing music in collaboration with poets or in reflection on poetry. In this case, the music is written in intentional reflection to One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. This extremely dense narrative serves as a point of focus for the whole work. Each movement is entitled after just a fragment of a line in the Marquez and the composer points out that the instruments are treated almost as speaking voices within the context. (The booklet notes by the composer are quite helpful.) This is also passionate music but written in a style reflective of the strange, hard-to-decipher, metaphoric intensity of the work of Garcia-Marquez. The closing movement, “…while they were playing…”, for example, is absolutely atmospheric. This quartet also deserves a place in the common canon for this instrumentation.
You will enjoy this recording as I did for any number of reasons. This is exciting, provocative contemporary music with a strong emotional grounding and the performance of Antares is quite impressive. New Focus Recordings is a performer-run independent with a clear commitment to new music and new artists. I certainly enjoyed this release and look forward to more!
—Daniel Coombs

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