MICHAEL TORKE: ‘Tahiti’ – Ensemble 10/10/Clark Rundell – Ecstatic Records ER092231 (Distr. by Allegro), 51:56 ****:
I have been a fan of Michael Torke’s music since the first recordings of his minimalist- inspired orchestral works on color themes dating back to the late 1980’s; such as Ecstatic Orange, Green and so forth. For me, the best aspects of Torke’s music have always been its ebullient, tonal, upbeat nature. It is impossible (in my opinion) to not find something quite likable in any of his works. Yet, his works have evolved a bit over the years. Those early ‘color works’ including more than six in a row from 1987-1989, while mostly minimal and clearly intended to depict a mood, were still a bit academic, but enjoyable.
Torke has turned his skills to some traditional genres a few times to great success, such as some of his Biblical topics found in the Five Songs of Solomon or the Song of Ezekiel but, thankfully, his gift for tonal, accessible writing has remained throughout these works to the present. This new recording on Torke’s own label, Ecstatic (of course) Records of his chamber orchestra works, Fiji and Tahiti, is a very pleasant experience.
Fiji, from 2008, uses six woodwind instruments to play exactly the same thing as each of the six stringed instruments. Four percussion players create a samba composite (which derive from an original African sources), unified by repeated eighths of a shaker instrument. These rhythms are in turned doubled by the woodwind/string pairs, and out of these pairings, melodies emerge. As Torke’s own notes confirm, this piece has a “sunny, ‘humid’ sound”. Fiji (originally titled Tropical) was commissioned for Ensemble 10/10, the contemporary music group of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, by Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008.
The multi-movement Tahiti is intended to evoke a feeling of the individual islands that make up the Society Islands in the South Pacific, commonly known as Tahiti. Torke offers subtitles to the movements (which are named after the individual islands) such as, “green cliffs’, “white sand”, “under the moonlight” and so forth. Certainly, the music in each case is very picturesque – jaunty at times, tranquil at others – and does indeed place the listener in a bit of a pleasant tropical mood. The Ensemble 10/10 plays quite well and with a clear disposition for Torke’s sound.
Michael Torke’s music, to the uninitiated, will sound a little bit like Daugherty, a little bit like film music, there are bare “hints” of classical stylistic minimalism but his sound is unique and one that I admire a great deal. Kudos to his marketing team and photographer Bryan Hainer, in particular. The cover art of the sultry brunette in a chaise lounge with a beer bottle nearby and cigarette in hand is both quite the ‘50’s look but also certainly evokes the laid back island feel. Michael Torke is a very talented composer who seems to have an instinct for pleasing an audience.
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich