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Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, January 2013

Mention of contemporary musical treatments of Lewis Carroll’s writings immediately brings to mind David Del Tredici’s obsessive and mostly nostalgic Alice-inspired compositions. However, as much as I have enjoyed those, I must say that Maurice Saylor…has trumped Del Tredici in sheer imaginative matching of nonsense music to nonsense words. Both Carroll’s epic silliness, The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits, and Saylor’s setting of large portions of it for Snarkestra , chorus, and children’s choir are cleverly crafted works of their genre, which simply lack the usual courtesy of making sense. That of course is the genius of the verse and the reason that this setting is so much fun.

The original idea was to write for the chorus and chamber orchestra, but, as he explains in his notes, “It struck me that a traditional orchestra would be too straight-laced for Jubjubs and Boojums.” Del Tredici came to the same conclusion with Alice, augmenting conventional ensembles with saxophones, banjos, and accordions. Saylor goes one better and writes for a “pit-band” made up only of “instruments reviled by society at large and rejected by people of good taste and common sense.” These include the same exotic instruments Del Tredici uses as supplements, plus bass versions of the accordion and saxophone, almost every other woodwind, harmonica, amplified violin, a battery of tuned percussion, and a washtub. The result is a truly amazing array of colors; an ensemble that is eccentric, sometime hilariously perverse, and deliciously supportive of Carroll’s witty text. Saylor tells the core story admirably…

The performance itself is spirited and undoubtedly a labor of love for all involved. The 13 instrumentalists are superb, and play their taxing parts on multiple instruments with skill and enthusiasm. The choral forces…acquit themselves admirably under the energetic direction of Cantate Chamber Singers Artistic Director Gisèle Becker.

The disc is completed with a sampling of another of Saylor’s extracurricular activities. After the experience with his Snark Pit-Band, Saylor formed a trio of composer/performers who write and play new scores for silent film comedies. One score each for a threesome of mid-1920s Charley Chase short subjects is included. The one by Saylor—a reed player in the ensemble—bears more than a passing semblance to his Snark music, while the other two by Andrew Earle Simpson (keyboards) and Phil Carluzzo (percussion and frets) are clever and engaging renovations of period-style jazz. The ensemble, here a sextet, brings the program to a rousing conclusion. Not to be missed. © 2013 Fanfare Read complete review

Maria Nockin
Fanfare, January 2013

Saylor’s music is intellectually engaging despite its thoroughly individual language, and his “Snarkestra” plays with gusto, letting all the edgy sounds of its unexpected combination of instruments collide in the hunt for the unknown. The music is at least as much fun to hear as Carroll’s wonderful poem. The Snark is a fascinating piece for chorus…The Cantate Chamber Singers…together with the children’s chorus from the Holton-Arms Lower School, romps through the work with great enthusiasm and a large helping of musicality.

The final three works on this disc…are grouped together as New Music for Silent Film Comedies, and are played by the Snark Ensemble, a smaller group. In it, Saylor plays clarinets, saxophones, melodica, and glockenspiel. Phil Carluzzo plays percussion and frets while Andrew Earle Simpson plays keyboard instruments. Stolen Goods is an amusing jazz piece…Publicity Pays starts off in a classical manner, but its theme soon becomes a folk dance and eventually becomes the perfect background for musical horse play…Too Many Mammas…[is] a wildly rhythmic jazz piece that would be fabulous on stage. The clear, warm sound on this disc makes you feel that you are listening to these performers in an intimate hall. Both singers and instrumentalists seem to have had a wonderful time making this recording and I enjoyed listening to it. I expect my readers will love it too. © 2013 Fanfare Read complete review

Paul Corfield Godfrey
MusicWeb International, May 2012

David del Tredici must be kicking himself. There he is, casting around for yet another Lewis Carroll verse to set to music; and here comes Maurice Saylor, taking the most substantial of all Carroll’s poems and running away with it.

…what Saylor does with the remaining verses which he does set…is really good fun. The words are always treated with care and a sense of their meaning. There are two very brief passages for solo voices; otherwise all of the text is given to the chorus. They are given real lines to sing with a good sense of what voices can and cannot be expected to do in putting across meaning. The orchestra is a riot, made up of all sorts of miscellaneous instruments which the composer describes as “rejected by society at large and people of good taste and common sense”. This collection of multifarious winds, keyboards, accordions, banjo, harmonica (the mouth-organ type, not the glass harmonica) and a solitary amplified violin should come across as a collection of ill-assorted specialists hardly on speaking terms with one another. In fact they cohere splendidly without ever losing their own quirky characteristics. The music itself, which the composer subjects to some extremely strict technical analysis (with music examples) in the booklet notes, is obviously very carefully worked out. That said, it never ever loses its sense of good humour. In his note the composer says: “I warn you, the first couple of minutes are a bumpy ride.” The warning is totally unnecessary. The opening ‘Snark’ theme is a corker whose wavering between major and minor comes across as a perfectly natural theme which you will find yourself whistling for days if you are not careful. David del Tredici’s Alice pieces are often great fun—but this is even more so.

The fill-ups on this disc are just that: fill-ups. They are all pieces written for performance at showings of silent movies. The piece by Saylor is a set of variations on Pop goes the weasel—oddly enough, a very close relative of the ‘Snark’ theme which opens that work. The other two pieces are really jazz rather than classical pieces, and highly enjoyable although hardly original.

Saylor himself plays a number of reed instruments in the silent movie pieces. The players of the Snark Ensemble obviously thoroughly enjoy themselves. So do the choirs in the main work. They make what is clearly some quite tricky choral writing sound not only easy but delightful. Two solo singers with very short parts are drawn from the choir and are adequate to their contributions. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Philip Greenfield
American Record Guide, January 2012

A walk on the lighter side. The choral writing is witty and, I should think, a lot of fun to sing….the “snarkestra”…plays up a storm.

The pit-band that accompanies the three scores is a jazz quintet, and they’re terrific. Breezy documentation from Naxos adds to the fun. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2011

The setting of Lewis Carol’s The Hunting of the Snark by the American composer, Maurice Saylor, must be enormous fun to perform. I suppose the question that hangs over the work—at what age group is it aimed? The words were once very familiar to the younger generation, but Saylor’s music is much more for adult consumption. To complement the quirky story, Saylor has written some instrumental interludes for the ‘Snarkestra’ group that he describes as a ‘misfit pit-band’. Included among the thirteen players are parts for bass accordion and washtub. The promised ‘riot of colour’ never really appears, but the sounds do complement the words, though I wish they had been included in the booklet, as all are not ideally clear in the performance from the Washington-based vocal group, Cantate Chamber Singers. The disc is completed by music for three vintage silent films, Stolen Goods, Publicity Pays and Two Many Mamas. Played by sixteen musicians mainly playing wind instruments. The films date from 1924 and are varied in content, the music always making a pleasing and affable backdrop, ending with a hot jazz pastiche that will set your foot tapping. Sound quality is good.

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