Of the four members of the so-called "New York School", Earle Brown's music has always seemed the least idiosyncratic, the least immediately identifiable upon hearing. It's difficult to ascertain why this is except to surmise that recordings of his music have often been done by groups with feet more firmly planted in the post-WWII serial movement than the post-Cageian flux, with a consequent tendency toward accents or gestures that carry a tinge of the more "official" modern classical world. The syntax tends to be more Uptown Manhattan than Downtown or, in Feldman's case, Brooklynese....
This recording, a second edition of a CD originally issued in the mid-90s, goes a bit toward countering that, though not entirely. It's bracketed by two readings of Brown's "Event: Synergy II" (1967/68), here performed with the instrumentation of five reeds and string quartet, a step away from the more desired eleven reeds and two string quartets. Brown himself conducts the winds, Steffen Schleiermacher the strings, each, as per the score, operating independently and not necessarily reacting to what the other is creating, translating a largely notated score, but one that leaves much decision-making to the conductor. The first version is sly and slithery, the reeds offering bent notes that aren't all that far from Anthony Braxton territory. There's a kind of playful banter between the two groups. The second begins in a more somber, sparser frame of mind, hinting at Asian forms (butoh, the film scores of Takemitsu), the glissandi taking on a more sorrowful character. It evolves into a prickly snarl, the interweaving still very much in the forefront, presumably a common feature of any rendition, but the notes are sharper, carry a finer point. Both versions are a joy to hear, imparting enough of "the street" to liven things up quite a bit.
"Tracking Pierrot" (1992) honors Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire" and is described by Brown as "basically a "closed form piece with 'open' interior structures", putting it on the shoulder of the conductor to extract the piece's "poetics". Scored for flute, bass clarinet, piano, violin, cello and percussion (marimba and vibraphone), the sonic world it inhabits is lush and rich. Indeed a feeling of luxuriousness pervades, the mallet instruments providing a shimmering bed on which the others frolic, tending strongly toward tonal, even romantic lines, a sensation enhanced by a reference, on piano, to Messiaen. "Windsor Jambs" (1980), integrates a mezzo-soprano with flute and bass clarinet, attempting to have her voice settle into the chamber orchestra as simply another element, offsetting it with a string trio (as well as piano and percussion). It partially works, though the listener can have a difficult time not picking up standard post-serial vocal inflections and flourishes. It's the one piece presented here that suffers from the pinched, "Uptown" quality mentioned earlier.
While this listener would still like to here a rougher, more "Tudor-esque", if you will, interpretation of Brown's scores, this release by and large does a yeoman's job on the more refined end of the scale.
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