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American Record Guide, September 2008

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, to write serious music was to write serial music or, at the very least, very dissonant music with few if any tonal references. Anything else was trite. Then, a few decades ago, along came minimalism and neo-romanticism, and serial music quickly became a thing of the past. Not so for a few composers, like Charles Wuorinen…is a marvelous composer. It is a remarkable achievement when music as abstract as this can grab and not let go of the listener's attention. …Ashberyana (2004) is scored for solo baritone with trombone, string quartet, and piano. At 18 minutes and in four movements, it is a striking work, and it is given a superb reading by baritone Leon Williams, trombonist James Pugh, pianist Sarah Rosenberg, and the Brentano Quartet. …Lucy Shelton is one of the world's best new-music vocalists, and she handles Wuorinen's thorny, queasy, weird melodies expertly in two sets of Fenton Songs, composed in 1997 and 2002 and based on poetry by James Fenton. She is ably accompanied in both sets by Brentano Quartet violinist Mark Steinberg and violist Nina Maria Lee, and by pianist Alan Feinberg in set II. The album ends with arrangements of vocal works by Josquin des Pres. It is a remarkable giant step back in time, and in some ways Josquin's music is as strange as Wuorinen's when compared with what seems natural to our ears. In the arrangements, the pitches are Josquin's, but some octave doublings and sound effects are Wuorinen's—so there is no mistaking that it is a contemporary setting. 'Ave Christe' (1988) is played reverently yet with energy by pianist Rothenberg, while the six pieces that make up Josquiniana (2002) are given wonderful readings by the Brentano Quartet.

Carson Cooman
Fanfare, September 2008

Veteran new-music specialist Lucy Shelton performs these works with the flair and skill she has always brought to such repertoire. an excellent introduction to his many skillful settings of quality poetry. The composer-supervised performances of this Naxos release are all strong, featuring musicians who have been long associated with his music.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2008

Charles Wuorinen has become an evangelical advocate of cutting edge modernity, having spent his early years in the world of conventional tonality.

Only history will judge whether he has chosen the right road, and I readily confess that I find difficulty in coming to terms with his style of composition. The present disc concentrates on three of his song cycles: Ashberyana and the first and second Fenton Songs. Despite the very differing emotional content of the poems, Wuorinen’s response is very similar, and even with the small group of instruments that accompany, there is always an active density in his music that I wish he would calm down. If you are just sampling the composer, try track 11 where Wuorinen’s style is in accord with the events that once took place in China’s Tiananmen Square. Ashberyana, dating from 2004, I find the most impenetrable, largely because I am not intelligent enough to understand John Ashbery’s poetry, but I am sure it makes sense to somebody. The disc is complemented by two short piano pieces, Praegustatum and Ave Christe of Josquin, and the string quartet, Josquiniana. The performances from Da Camara of Houston in the songs, with soprano Lucy Shelton and Leon Williams, baritone, have that rather unemotional quality that is the way modernists perform their music. The fine Brentano String Quartet play Wuorinen’s tribute to the the 15th century composer, Josquin Desprez, which I hope Josquin would have enjoyed. Reliable sound engineering, but you might have to use Internet sales for a disc on limited geographic circulation.

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