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Classical Music Review

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Society of Composers, Inc: Volume 31 - Ascend


Composers: various
Label: Navona Records
RRP: £13.99
Release Date: 14 July 2017

Ascend is the latest collaboration between Parma Recordings and the Society of Composers, Inc. I have to admit I wasn't a fan - in fact, bearing in mind how many composers were involved, I was surprised by the fact that I actually disliked each and every track.

I didn't understand it, I didn't get it even slightly... so here's the official press release, which I'm reprinting because it bared no resemblance to what I listened to.

"This collection is an enthralling showcase of leading composers and performers from around the world. Featuring fantastic ensembles, and with works that reference far-flung locations and historical events, this album journeys fascinatingly through time and space as it compiles a competitively selected sample of today’s best compositions. One of the joys of Ascend is the variety, which emerges from the album’s aim to include the music of as many composers as possible. Listeners can look forward to a range of vocal and instrumental chamber works featuring instrumentations from solo clarinet to a large ensemble of strings, piano, and solo oboe. And, even though Ascend is a showcase of composers, the album’s performances are spectacular, and feature some of the world’s leading soloists and ensembles..."

Is this where we are now with classical music? Throw out the form; dispense with melodies and emotive compositions? Instead give the instruments to trained musicians and ask them to play them like children who have never even seen an instrument before, let alone played one? Fine for an art installation (if you must) but as an album for people to listen to for pleasure? Please! Are people that desperate for new sounds?

I'm sorry, but the state of modern classical music really gets me riled up. This is not music that is easy to digest. In fact it literally made me angry and uncomfortable. I tried listening to it while reading (not a chance, it was too distracting); laying down with my eyes closed (not conducive to a restful experience) and even on my headphones while I exercised (while it got me peddling faster on the exercise bike I ended up throwing the headphones off after 10 minutes).

But for those who enjoy unmelodic, pretty self-indulgent nonsense, these 9 pieces (1 hr, 03 min, 12 sec) may be the greatest music you've ever heard. Personally, I thought a more relevant title would have been Descend.

Track listing:

01 - Snoqualmie Passages (Patrick Houlihan)
Caroline Taylor (alto saxophone), Lei Cai (piano)
02 - Vexatious (Joungmin Lee)
JACK Quartet | Christopher Otto (violin), Ari Streisfeld (violin), John Richards (viola), Kevin McFarland (cello)
03 - Shining Through Cracks (Paul SanGregory)
The Counterpoint Ensemble | Akris Hung (oboe), Bonnie Lin (violin), Chun Chang (violin), Hui-Fang Hsu (viola), Rou-An Hou (cello), Yi-Chin Ou (piano)
04 - If You Walked a Mile (Mike McFerron)
Andrew Spencer (marimba)
05 - Fantasia (Justin Writer)
David Carter (clarinet)
06 - Dulce Et Decorum Est (Aaron Alon)
Mark Whatley (baritone), Eva Liebhaber (violin I), Kaoru Suzuki (violin II), Elizabeth Charles (viola), Jennifer Humphreys (cello)
07 - Breathing 2: Re/Inspiration (Michael Pounds)
electroacoustic music
08 - Bombinate (Jeffrey Loeffert)
Jonathan Nichol (soprano saxophone I), Geoffrey Deibel (soprano saxophone II), Jeffrey Loeffert (soprano saxophone III)
09 - Embark (Stephen F. Lilly)
Stephen F. Lilly (kalimba, egg shaker, and 5-bell desert chime)


Darren Rea

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