JENNIFER HIGDON: “Chamber Music of Jennifer Higdon”—Dash; Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano; Trumpet Songs; Song for solo flute; Legacy for violin and piano; Piano Trio – Verismo Trio/Scott Turpen, alto saxophone/Theresa Bogard, piano/Scott Meredith, trumpet/Rubia Santos, piano/Nicole Riner, flute/John Fadial, violin/Beth Vanderborgh, cello – Albany Records TROY 1395, 57:12 ****:

By now, Jennifer Higdon is rightfully and widely known as one of America’s greatest living composers. Her music is tonal, very rewarding to play and to listen to and shows great emotional range. It frequently sparkles with a wonderful harmonic palate and enticing instrumental combinations. This collection of some of her best chamber music is also filled with several first recordings.

Jennifer served as the University of Wyoming Eminent Artist-in-Residence during the 2010-2011 academic year and this wonderful collection is a result of that residency. The music, just like all her output, is attention getting and a joy to listen to and the performance are all first rate.

Dash, originally composed for the Verdehr Trio, is a propulsive, frantic short drive for clarinet (in this performance, soprano saxophone), flute and piano. The music depicts the constant hurriedness of life in this century. The individual parts are all of equal weight as they literally “dash” to the exciting finish. The Verismo Trio exhibits great synchronicity throughout this tight little work.

The Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano is a great discovery! Originally for viola and piano, Higdon was asked by several different saxophonists to arrange the work and, using some revoicing and register changes, it stands as a wonderful addition to the saxophone repertoire. Higdon cites the influence on the work by the sound of Hindemith and Rebecca Clarke which is easy to hear and yet this is a beautiful, one- of-a-kind piece. Scott Turpen, saxophone and Theresa Bogard (also in the Verismo Trio) play very well.

Trumpet Songs has a similar lineage, being a set of nine melodies from art songs Higdon composed some years earlier.  There is definitely a lyrical quality to these lovely little pieces and Scott Meredith, trumpet, with Rubia Santos on piano has a wonderful classical tone that carries the melodies in a gorgeous, unassuming way.

Jennifer Higdon is, herself, a classically trained flutist and her Song for solo flute was written for the National Flute Association’s high school soloist competition. Nicole Riner plays this lovely but very challenging work very well!  This piece should be considered standard fare for solo flute along with the Varese Density 21.5 and Debussy’s Syrinx.

Legacy for violin and piano is yet another example of why Jennifer’s music is so directly appealing. This is a straight forward neo-Romantic musing that the composer states is intended to represent “life’s wholeness, the good and the bad…”  This elegant work is played with great emotion by John Fadial, violin with Rubia Santos, piano.

Higdon’s Piano Trio, for the standard violin, cello and piano, is based on the composer’s fascination with the possible connections between painting and composing and the possibilities of aligning colors with particular moods and tonalities. Accordingly, the first movement, “Pale Yellow” is soft, a little bit melancholic and introspective. “Fiery Red” is driving, pyro-technical and a little bit ‘threatening’. This work was written for the Bravo-Vail Music Festival and provides a brilliant close to this album.

All performers in this collection are connected to each other or to the University of Wyoming in some way and provide terrific performances. The music is all so attractive and fun to listen to I should imagine all listeners would enjoy this album a great deal. To go back to Legacy, Jennifer Higdon also comments, “Everyone leaves a legacy.”  I have had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer and maintaining casual correspondence. Her legacy is most assuredly that of being an immensely-talented composer and gifted musician who is also a very nice person. Highly recommended!

—Daniel Coombs