Saturday, March 11, 2006

Women's History Month: Little Venice & Quartet 1931

Women's History Month at HurdAudio continues with a deep listen to two standout compositions.

"Little Venice" (1985) by Linda Catlin Smith for clarinet, piano, vibraphone, violin, viola, cello and double bass. Performed by Arraymusic on Chroma from 1989.

There's a beautiful, liquid tranquility to this music. The tempo holds a steady, slow pace as harmonies are carefully revealed with slow, dynamic sustained tones (and the occasional short ostinato). Each gesture and melodic fragment seems carefully selected to minimize the ripples across this gentle texture. The opposing sensations of stasis and movement are ever present.

One of the most striking things about this piece is the sensation of size and proportion. The timbral richness of the sound seems much larger than the seven instruments used to produce it - partially from the languid presence of the recording hall's reverb adding a great deal of presence to this sound - and yet the overall soft dynamic range keeps the sense of scale almost microscopic. It has the meditative feel of watching the colors of the sky shifting over the course of a sunset.

"Quartet 1931" (1931) by Ruth Crawford-Seeger for string quartet. Performed by the Arditti String Quartet on Arditti from 1989.

This one is an outstanding "modernist" work with a wide, expressive range and thematic detail. The opening contrapuntal texture is fantastic. This piece deftly explores the registral extremes of these string instruments while sustaining a great deal of continuity throughout. Another striking element is the variety of sonic density as brush strokes of varying width are applied to this 10-minute canvas. The sustained harmonies that organically from the overall texture are especially satisfying.

Holding together all of the transitions, harmonic inventiveness and thematic austerity of this work is the striking linear quality of the melodic lines that emerge and twist throughout this music. The restless transitions in this work are intensely creative extensions of the melodic sensibilities found in a small set of thematic materials.

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