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Brian Burtt
MusicWeb International, September 2008

Tashi forms the bulk of this recording. It takes its name from the contemporary music ensemble for which it (and Fortune) was written, and whose cellist Fred Sherry is part of the Group for Contemporary Music line-up. The structure of the piece is three “movements,” with the center movement being separated from the outer ones by two “interludes.” Throughout the work, the composer’s skill in expressing rhythmic immediacy, as well as the passionate intensity with which the composer seems to have something vitally interesting and important to say, even if it’s unclear just what that is, keep the listener’s ear attentive. I must note Wuorinen’s skill in writing for clarinet so as to integrate it into the overall sound-world of the piece, which other composers don’t always find easy to accomplish.

The notes say that Wuorinen “seems especially in his element when writing for percussion instruments,” and the Percussion Quartet bears this out. Here we see the composer’s affinity to the sound-world of percussion groupings found in traditional Asian music, as well as the American minimalists who found inspiration from them. In narrative development of the music, in the timbral distinctness of each of the instruments, and in their integration into a musical whole, Wuorinen seems to have written a chamber symphony for percussion orchestra, which the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble clearly love playing.

Fortune draws on the same timbres as Tashi, but begins in a slow, pensive, attempt to keep the lid on a sonic pot that threatens to bubble over. Energy accumulates into stuttering forward motion towards the end of the first section “Before”. “After” seems to be working its way toward a cry that is never fully expressed. The work was commissioned for the Bonn Beethovenfest of 1980. The notes attempts to draw parallels between bits of various works by Beethoven and effects in Fortune, but it’s too far of a stretch for me to see the connection.

Considering that the Group for Contemporary Music was founded by Wuorinen, it is fitting that they are performing two of the three works here. Hayes Biggs’s notes for this release provide helpful overviews of the works, but don’t do quite enough to situate the newcomer to the broader story of Wuorinen’s life and work.

Naxos appears to be devoting considerable attention to Wuorinen’s music, having already released two other volumes of his chamber music (8.559264 and 8.559288).

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, January 2008

Three of Charles Wuorinen’s most interesting chamber works are gathered here on a single disc – all in recordings previously issued by Koch International Classics.

Two of the pieces – Tashi and Fortune – were originally written for the ensemble called Tashi, a quartet made up of clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Tashi and Fortune form the outer panels of this triptych, as it were, with the Percussion Quartet in the centre.

Tashi is in five movements, designated Movement I, Interlude, Movement II, interlude and Movement III. There is a an arch-like symmetry to the work, Movement I being roughly equal in length to Movement III (7:32 to 7:18 in this performance), the two Interludes being of very similar length (both come in at 2:44 here) and Movement II, the central section, is the longest (10:38 in this performance). Though Tashi is a complex work which reveals more with successive listenings, it is by no means forbiddingly inaccessible even at first hearing.

The first movement of Tashi is full of energy, full of elaborately worked out counterpoint and intense instrumental dialogue. The succeeding Interlude is a rather more relaxed affair, though having clear affinities, in terms of material, with what has gone before. The central section, Movement II, is particularly fine, generally quieter, less obviously assertive than Movement I, often, indeed, quite lyrical with a distinctive, gentle beauty and a degree of pathos. The second Interlude again picks up on what has preceded it, sustaining a kind of melancholy anticipatory calmness before Movement III returns with renewed energy and propulsion, before settling down, eventually, into a calmer conclusion. The whole makes gripping listening, both colourful instrumentally and engaging at intellectual and emotional levels alike.

The Percussion Quartet, dedicated to conductor and percussionist Claire Heldrich, was commissioned by the new Music Consort, New Jersey Percussion Ensemble and the Percussion Group of Cincinnati, is in two movements, the first rather longer than the other. Wuorinen’s work generally has a strong sense of rhythmic impulse, and that is naturally well to the fore here, as ever shifting combinations of percussion instruments (which include timpani, marimbas, vibraphones, tom-toms, bass-drums, cymbals and much else) emerge and dissolve across a more or less continuous forward movement or, rather, movements, given that at several points rhythms are superimposed on one another, without ever losing a sense of direction. The second movement begins with approximations to the rhythms of the dance, rhythms that become less clearly focused in the movement’s middle section, before emerging again, with a kind of renewed vigour at the work’s conclusion.

Fortune, commissioned by the City of Bonn for the Beethovenfest of 1980, is in two movements, equal in length, which carry the titles ‘Before’ and ‘After’. Since the first comes before the second and the second after the first, that seems fair enough! But other ironic, mildly humorous, references are presumably also intended. ‘Before’ begins with some opening triads slowly and doggedly affirmed, before quicker, flickering music takes over, at least briefly. The interplay of tempi, indeed, is one of the most intriguing effects in this movement, a subtle construction that holds the attention with no difficulty, for all the relative simplicity of its materials. The two movements are played continuously, the second (‘After’) being more obviously muscular, more texturally complex, more insistent.

The performances throughout are exemplary and the recorded sound is all that it needs to be – this is yet another Naxos disc which anyone with an interest in modern music will want to hear.

Colin Clarke
Fanfare, November 2007

This is a tremendous disc of music of real importance.

The writing of Tashi is very active and very complex, so much so that one gets the impression that to own this disc one should be a virtuoso listener also. The playing is beyond criticism, as is the spirit.

The Percussion Quartet (1994) finds Wuorinen playing with his ensemble so that various identifiable groups can emerge and play off each other. There is no doubting the composer’s imagination here, both metrically and timbrally. Beauty finds a place in Wuorinen’s vocabulary as well, in no uncertain terms. Again, performance and recording are of the very highest standard.

Finally, Fortune, a work commissioned for Bonn’s Beethovenfest of 1980. The two movements (“Before” and “After”) are here performed without break. The first part seems to inhabit the hypnotically monumental world of late Beethoven string quartet slow movements, accelerating in its own good time. Working with the material of the first part, the second makes a return eventually to the extroversions of Tashi. It is a gripping score (as are all three on this disc). © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

Alan Rich
L.A. Weekly, June 2007

Back in the days of the LP, it was an act of considerable heroism for Goddard Lieberson’s Columbia Records to devote time and money to recording serious American music. Today, nearly every important event takes place in front of a microphone and a competent engineer, and now there is Naxos to build its considerable catalog of Americana from new and recently archived performances. And while Lieberson’s label nourished itself primarily on the luxury of New York performances, the Naxos catalog reaches far, wide and, now and then, risky.

Here, for example, is a perfect delight of a disc, of music from that grand pioneer Louis Gottschalk, who charmed the crowds here and abroad up through Civil War days with flamboyant, virtuosic display pieces. From last year’s Hot Springs (Arkansas) Festival comes a whole disc of Gottschalk’s orchestral works, and it’s a hoot. It includes the hilariously lovable Célèbre Tarantelle and Night in the Tropics, guaranteed to lift you off your seat on first hearing, and Gottschalk’s own arrangement for five pianos, nine horns and 112-piece orchestra of The Young King Henry’s Hunt (don’t ask). There’s even an opera, 13 minutes long, something Cuban. The Hot Springs forces are led by a certain Richard Rosenberg, and you haven’t heard any of the soloists, so you don’t need to now. The performances are as good as they need to be at the price; don’t forget, this is Naxos.

Even more worth your while is a disc of works by Charles Wuorinen, the New York composer who has worked for a time in the shadow of atonality but has more recently emerged into a more congenial, if intensely brainy, musical style, moved energetically forward by lively contrapuntal adventures. Two works on the disc are remastered archive recordings by the Group for Contemporary Music of superfond memory. They are for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, which was also the constitution of an ensemble called Tashi, and that — hold on — is the name of the first of the two pieces. (The other, for the same scoring, is called Fortune.) These are big, stirring, somewhat nerve-racking pieces, wonderful listening. In between comes a percussion quartet, played by a group from New Jersey, and that, too, is a dandy. So, in fact, is the whole disc.

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