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Monday, February 28, 2005
Crabtree, Frizzo, Johnson, and Price, Resonance: Chamber Works – Volume 1
New Tertian Recordings

Just by chance, the CD I picked out to review this time, Resonance: Chamber Works – Volume 1, offers a nice counterpoint to David’s latest review of The Peoples Mass. Like the mass, Resonance features works by composers who are, according to the label’s website, “up and coming.” Also like the mass, Resonance suffers a bit from its concept. The CD is apparently intended, again according to the label, to give “the listener an opportunity to hear music written for a variety of different instruments on a single release.” Though it seems more likely that the four young composers featured here just threw their favorite chamber pieces onto a CD, Resonance delivers on its promise; guitar, tuba, cello, voice, piano, clarinet, violin, viola, and all four saxes make appearances.

Such diversity, though, doesn’t make for much of a cohesive listening experience. Each track presents a new ensemble or soloist, and works by the individual composers are spread throughout the CD. The combination of live and studio recordings doesn’t help matters much. Over the course of the hour running time, the listener never really gets to settle in.

One narrow and unlikely thread, however, binds Resonance together – the saxophone. Despite the label’s claims of diversity, the sax features in four of the nine pieces. Interestingly, these four pieces are the strongest on the CD. The first, William Price’s “Prayer for the Forgotten,” performed by the Red Stick Saxophone Quartet, offers harmonies that are warm and solemn, as its title might suggest. Then the piece moves gradually into more unsettled territory, which sounds striking after the chorale-like beginnings. The chords, unwilling to be forgotten, return to end the piece. Price is also represented by “Sans Titre II,” the last of the sax pieces on the disc. Though the piece is a nine-minute solo, it remains intriguing. Price’s lines are melodic, pretty, but agitated. In the second half of the piece, a sense of rhythmic drive enters and the pulse releases some of the tension, though the melodies in this section occasionally wander a little too close to light jazz territory.

In between Price’s two works lie Aaron Johnson’s “Vexation” and John Crabtree’s “Aurorean Eclipse.” A sax and a cello are called for in Johnson’s piece, and the combination is very effective. The two instruments pace around each other as if learning a new dance. “Aurorean Eclipse” features another saxophone quartet, though the piece has little in common with Price's. Crabtree creates an engrossing texture by calling for nearly constant trills, some violent slap-tonguing, and few fading glissandi.

Though the fourth composer, Carlos Vincetti Frizzo, is shut out of the saxes, he gets a good piece in too. Resonance closes with his “Celestial Horizons: Three Scenes from the Cosmos” for string trio. The work overcomes its pretentious title to offer a pleasing and highly listenable, though slightly stolid, conclusion to the CD.

The rest of the CD is unremarkable. If you’re interested in music for the saxophone or just curious to see what some new composers are up to, it’s worth checking out. Otherwise, you’re better off with CD’s of chamber music that stick with one ensemble or one composer for the duration.


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