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Rochberg, Shapero, Berger & Hartke
New World Records

Rochberg String Quartets 3-6 Concord String Quartet
New World Records 80551-2

Hartke Sons of Noah & Wulfstan at the Millennium
New World Records 80568-2

Berger Complete Orchestral Music
New World Records 80605-2

Shapero Chamber Music (Lydian String Quartet)
New World Records 80569-2

A fascinating batch of music by contemporary American music, sent for consideration as a follow-up to reviewing George Rochberg's violin concerto and 5th symphony. His string quartets are disturbing and disorienting; the third a key work in George Rochberg's polystylistic assertion, devouring all the idioms available past and present from Beethoven, Mahler, Schonberg etc and serving them up unashamedly in a roller-coaster melange. His case is argued persuasively by Michael Linton and I enjoyed this sprawling 50 min structure, unashamedly derivative, yet more than a collage and finally saying something personal. The three later quartets pursue similar methods, and are known collectively as the Concord Quartets, commissioned by the quartet which premiered No 3 in 1972. A CD which makes you think long after you have finished lisetening to it.

Of the others received, the most individual voice is that of the youngest composer, Stephen Hartke (b.1952). His setting of a modern day parable about the Sons of Noah, who quarrel about the division of the land whilst still afloat in the Ark - "nothing but the sea to be seen", captured perfectly in the evocative cover photo.

Composed in and for the University of Southern California, its instrumentation is ideal for college forces, four each flutes, guitars and bassoons. Hartke's wife, soprano Lisa Stidham, sings impressively with stamina and excellent diction the demanding half hour text (Machado/Littell) which culminates with "My God, they're fighting over land they don't even own, Oh Lord, can you imagine what will happen in _____*_____*_____*_____" (*= fill in the blanks with whatever current territorial aggressions come to mind.)

Ever topical, I am surprised Sons of Noah hasn't been taken up widely; a good one for the Guildhall SMD and Claire Booth, possibly?

Wulfstan at the Millennium is even more original, the realisation of a dream (c.f. Stravinsky's Octet) and one of the most convincing appropriations of medieval music I know, "skipping over the compositional periods that constitute the bulk of our Western musical history". An instrumental musical fiction, it takes the form of a quasi-liturgical collection of short pieces from Introit to Recessional, composed "as if Perotin, Machaut etc and a host of anonymous English and Cypriot composers had been the direct antecedents of late twentieth century music". The flexible ensemble Xtet is conducted by Donald Crockett, and this CD is certainly unique and accordingly treasurable.

Harold Shapero's Serenade for string quintet with double bass gave me pleasure, but his quartet and string trio less so. The fastidious Arthur Berger's whole orchestral output fits onto one not over-filled CD and is much indebted to middle period Stravinsky, but I found the music fresh and welcome, so much so that I will return to it.

Most of these CDs are available from Amazon; the Rochberg quartets with sound excerpts and likewise short snippets from the Hartke works are available to get an impression of his styles.

© Peter Grahame Woolf