Reviews Sounds of America
‘Rose of Sharon’ Anonymous The Army of the Free. Captain Kidd. Come life, Shaker life. The Death of General Wolfe. Drumdelgie. The Gentleman Soldier. Jefferson and Liberty (The Gobby O). Leander. Maryland, my Maryland. My carnal life. Now, my dear companions. O love, sweet love. The President’s March. Sinner Man. Stubborn Oak. Tis the gift to be simple. Who will bow and bend like a willow Billings America. God is the king. I am the rose of Sharon Carey The Morning Trumpet Emmett Dixie’s Land Foster Hard times come again no more Ingalls Northfield Phile He comes, the hero comes! Walker Wondrous Love MM Warner Hear, O Lord, when I cry J Webster Lorena White Lay me low A Wood Dance me a jig Ensemble Phoenix Munich / Joel Frederiksen Harmonia Mundi F HMC90 2085 (71’ • DDD) A century of American songs from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War
Americana continues making intermittent inroads into the early music community, though not always comfortably. Boston Camerata (Apex, 9/95),
Anonymous 4 (Harmonia Mundi, 2/04) and now Ensemble Phoenix Munich have recorded hymns and songs from rural 19th-century America and, in all cases, presentation is crucial. Slight of substance and shadowy of authorship, this music draws meaning from its sociological context. Intelligently, this disc’s 30 selections are grouped under headings such as “Shaker Spirituals”, “Music of the Civil War”, etc.
Joel Frederiksen’s overall approach is seriously objective. In contrast to the exuberant, folklorist Anonymous 4, Ensemble Phoenix Munich, based in Europe but dominated by American singers, purges the music of folksy sentimentality and the idealised reordering of history that one might call utopian hindsight. Diction is meticulous – no regional accents or the vocal abrasiveness I’ve heard from the few surviving Shakers. The studio acoustic is warm but not so atmospheric. Yet this music-making isn’t clinical. Bass Frederiksen naturally adopts the gravity of a church elder, singing with formality, dignity and severity.
Of course, the Ensemble is happy to kick up its heels in what now sounds like squaredance music in “Dance me a jig”. And in Stephen Foster’s “Hard times come again no more”, comparisons with Thomas Hampson’s Mahlerian emotionalism on “American Dreamer” (EMI, 10/92) show how successful Ensemble Phoenix Munich can be: Deborah Rentz-Moore’s simpler delivery gives the www.gramophone.co.uk
Stephen Drury: plays the music of another Adams usic without z z
BARS The rich sonorities and seamless textures of an original minimalist
JL Adams Four Thousand Holes a . …and bells remembered… b a Scott Deal vib a John Luther Adams elec b Callithumpian Consort (Jeffrey Means chimes Joseph Becker, Joseph LaPalomento vibs John Andress bells Bill Holden crotales) / Stephen Drury a pf Cold Blue F CB0035 (42’ • DDD) The meditative, sensuous music of a true American individual
From the label, based in Venice, California, that has recently produced such classics as Christopher
Roberts’s Trios for Deep Voices and the Eclipse Quartet playing Peter Garland’s Second String Quartet, come two pieces from the workshop of John Luther Adams (b1953 – the other Adams), who “came of age playing rock’n’roll”. One piece is large, one is small, and both celebrate the spatial dimensions of nature, their meditative rhythms laced with the gratuitous, flowering sensuality of 21st-century minimalism and impelled by a fascination with found chordal objects.
This is also, to an unusual extent, music not only without bar-lines but perhaps without bars themselves. In Four Thousand Holes (30 minutes for piano and mallet percussion) it’s all about major and minor triads. In …and bells remembered… (10 minutes by the Callithumpian Consort, which pianist Drury founded “sometime in the 1990s…dedicated to the proposition that music is an experience”), it’s about bells.
Extensive web-based documentation details an extraordinary attention to detail on the part of Adams, who describes the intuition-inspired process and art of his compositional activity with the gleeful wizardry of an entomologist bringing a precious subject back to life. It is impressive to imagine anyone actually following such conceptual virtuosity, much less creating the seamless, seemingly organic layers of sound Adams lays out over his structurally precise and infinitely flexible power grids. Laurence Vittes
GRAMOPHONE SEPTEMBER 2011 XI