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Jeremy Marchant
Fanfare, September 2010

Judith Lang Zaimont, now in her 60s, has written a substantial body of music for a wide range of forces. The earliest work on this CD, Chroma—Northern Lights, dates from 1985. I was surprised to see from the composer’s Web site that it is scored for only single woodwind, horn, percussion, and strings. Zaimont commands these resources with impressive authority and skill and, helped by the full recording, creates a sound world that is up to conveying “the changing patterns of light and color … [of] the polar Aurora’s continual visual shift.” Words like “kaleidoscopic,” “atmospheric,” “exuberant” fly off the pages of the CD booklet and it is easy to hear why they might. Claims are made for Zaimont’s music’s “dynamism,” “palpable emotion,” “immediacy,” and so on, and again one can hear why...Stylistically, the music of Chroma and Stillness is cautiously modern, and I sense the expression being rather reined in. It would be possible to turn up the “kaleidoscope,” “immediacy,” and even “emotion” dials by quite a bit without risking breakdown...Stillness, for orchestra, is the most recent work (2004) as well as being by some way the longest on this disc. Stillness explores “means of progress over time without necessarily moving forward using traditional harmony and melody.” Although it seems to move forward perfectly satisfactorily, what is slightly unnerving is the way the style flickers about, and the music often reminds one of something else. In fact, it is the fruit of Zaimont’s study of the music of Morton Feldman and Delius, and it certainly doesn’t sound like either of those strange bedfellows, though one can appreciate how, philosophically, they might be kindred spirits of this music. Stillness is cast in three panels, the outer ones interpreting stillness as “dappled quietude,” and the short, inner one as “rapt readiness to act.” If the program notes for the outer panels lead one to expect something akin to Scelsi, then, as with Chroma, it is all rather more restrained than it might be. However, there is plenty of activity going on in the quietude, and only the final four minutes or so reach a conventional sense of stillness.

After Chroma, the opening of Ghosts (2000) breaks in with a surprise. Suddenly there is “The splendour falls on castle walls”—not quite right, but obviously the same opening as of Britten’s setting of Tennyson’s poem in Serenade. Ghosts uses snippets from six composers but is far from being just six two-minute variations; it is far more interesting and compelling than that. Clearly the “ghost composers,” who, in addition to Britten, are Scriabin, Berg, Ravel, Christopher Rouse, and Laurie Anderson, have important meanings for Zaimont. She adds a personal motif of her own, and all seven of them intertwine in an evanescent and slightly mysterious way. She has said “what matters is how this mix resonates within me” and this does raise the question of how someone unacquainted with the extracts would appreciate the work. I think it is strong enough to stand on its own and the inevitable stylistic differences rather put it as a piece with the other works on the disc.

Elegy and Ghosts are movements from Zaimont’s Second Symphony, “Remember Me,” for string orchestra. One rather wishes the omitted movement, “Dancin’ Over My Grave,” could have been included on this CD. Elegy is simpler in concept than Ghosts but, like it, explores the idea of memory; in this case, the memory of a close relative. Zaimont’s divisi string writing in both works is often gorgeous and always commanding, and all the performances appear to be accurate and confident (I don’t have scores)...this well-recorded CD rewards repeated listening.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, June 2010

Chroma - Northern Lights is a well crafted work…Ghosts…creates a kaleidoscope of sound. It’s quite a thrilling piece…the Elegy for strings (which incorporates parts for two solo violins) is…deeply felt and without any histrionics. It has a British string music feel…The final work, STILLNESS, is…an interesting work for it shows…that here is a composer who can think her own thoughts and carry them out successfully.

Cinemusical, April 2010

Judith Lang Zaimont is an American composer and that is about all one will glean from Naxos meager notes accompanying this otherwise superb release of contemporary music.

The opening piece on the disc, Chroma—Northern Lights (1985), is a fascinating study in orchestral textures and rhythm. The music has a cell of three bars that gets stretched and tossed throughout the musical texture with fine woodwind writing on display throughout. An odd off-kilter dance inhabits its central section and the chamber setting of the music does not allow for as lush a string effect as one wishes at times. Though filled with nervous energy, the piece closes rather quietly but well-thought out in its minute-long final bars.

The central work on the disc is two of three movements from Zaimont’s second symphony (2000) titled “Remember Me.” The first “excerpt” is titled “Ghosts.” The music is a fascinating blend of musical quotation taken to a different level. Usually, quotation music is blatantly obvious to a listener as the quotes tend to come from familiar composers or tunes. Zaimont’s “ghosts” here are from the likes of Scriabin, Britten, Ravel (whose La Valse may be the easiest quote to hear), Berg, Christopher Rouse, and Laurie Anderson. Her own ideas move along with the sounds of these other composers being inferred alongside her own and mingled loosely together against divisi strings. Two solo violin ideas (superbly realized by Robert Maracek and Josef Skorepa) create additional intriguing textures. One need not know, ore recognize the stylistic ghosts here to appreciate Zaimont’s superb orchestration or deft handling of thematic material. The accessibility of her own musical language also allows for a captivating entry into her soundworld. What is interesting most in this movement is not the sense of dissolution of musical pasts, but the aural discovery of possible new directions tonal music might embark even as it pays homage to earlier post-tonal composers who stretched the edges of Romanticism in their own ways.

The following Elegy for Strings is an impassioned work that is composed in long arch-like segments that spin out continuously over its ten-minute playing time. In some respects that semi-closing segments along the way feel as if a particular memory has finished only to inspire another recollection of someone or something. The effect is mesmerizing. The only unfortunate thing is that the third component of this work is not included. Nothing makes a buyer put down a classical disc faster than the word “excerpt” so having that on the cover of this disc will not help. But you will miss out on some amazing contemporary music.

The final work on the disc is a “poem for orchestra” and is the most recent piece on the release. It comes from 2004 and is titled Stillness. The music is an exercise in trying to create a sense of movement without necessarily moving forward through traditional means of melodic direction or harmonic movement. It is the result of Zaimont’s study of the works of Delius and Morton Feldman. The former is definitely on display in the way the melodic contours of some of the woodwind writing where Feldman’s blocks of sound and static harmonies appear as sound markers in the texture. The music still has a sense of extreme dramatic tension as ideas are transferred in the orchestral texture over a three-part form. Each segment focuses on a particular aspect of “stillness” with the central section being a more quickly-moving musical moment.

The Slovak National Symphony does a fine job of effortlessly performing these pieces. The woodwind performances are really well-done with crisp articulation and rhythmic precision. Strings in the opening work seem as if they needed to be shored up more as they sound a bit thin, but this is not a problem for the remainder of the works featured here. The balance is fine throughout as brass are added for the final work. The recording seems to be a bit recessed in the sound picture causing a drier sound at rather low levels. This does, however, manage to allow the textural writing to shine even if the music might be served by a bit warmer acoustic.

Overall this is a fascinating disc of contemporary music that we can only hope will lead to more exploration of Zaimont’s music.

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