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Lou Harrison Drums Along the Pacific & Serenado

Drums Along the Pacific (1941 - 1989)
Threnody for Carlos Chávez
Simfony #13
Music for Violin with Various Instruments
Song of Quetzacóatl
Canticle # 3
Solo to Anthony Cirone

David Abel, Dennis Russell Davies, Leta Miller, Geraldine Walther, William Winant, Jennifer Cass, Joel Davel, Scott Evans, Carla Fabrizio, David Johnson, Daniel Kennedy, Todd Manley, Sam Ospovat, David Rosenthal, Gordon Smith, Julie Steinberg, Robert Strizich

New Albion NA122 [56:22 ]


Threnody to the Memory of Oliver Daniel
Sonata in Ishartum
Beverly's Troubadour Piece
Music for Bill and Me
Jahla - in the form of a Ductia to pleasure Leopold Stokowski on his ninetieth birthday
Serenado por Gitaro
Variations on Walter Von der Vogelweide's "Song of Palestine"

Serenade for Guitar
Air gong
Infinite Canon finger cymbals and medium drum
Usul - little homage to Sinan finger cymbals and medium drums
Sonata medium drums

Scenes from Nek Chand (first recording) solo National Steel guitar in just intonation
The Leaning Lady
The Rock Garden
The sinuous arcade with swings in the arches

Tandy's Tango
A Waltz for Evelyn Hinrichsen

David Tanenbaum (guitar) Joel Davel, Scott Evans, Gyan Riley, William Winant (percussion)

New Albion NA123

Henry Cowell regretted that whereas most of the world's music consisted of a melodic line with rhythmic accompaniment, Western composers had neglected the possibilities of rhythm and melody "to worship instead at the altar of harmony". In his "Drums Along the Pacific", Cowell described how round about 1940 John Cage and Lou Harrison (1917-2003) initiated and developed an extraordinary interest in percussion music on the Pacific coast, with orchestras formed to play music for percussion instruments alone in Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles.

The full texts of the notes for these two unique collections, both featuring unusual percussion, can be accessed on New Albion's website (new releases) and they make for a good read, giving a full picture of a movement spearheaded by Lou Harrison, who developed the melodic aspects, whilst Cage's experiments led to indeterminacy.

Harrison rejected complexity;"I don't think increasing complexity is the answer to anything - I don't think significance is opposed to beauty." During his San Francisco years (1935-42), Harrison composed works for percussion alone (such as those for Cage's ensemble) as well as for solo instrument accompanied by percussion. In the first of these two collections there are long melodies, 'simple' yet not simplistic, one expressing the heart of the viola, others for 'folky' violin and ocarina. I found them increasingly absorbing as I "tuned in" to the idiom.

Alongside his interest in unusual and 'found' instruments, in these works Harrison explores also various tuning systems, another of his lifelong preoccupations. After a long gap, he returned to composing for the guitar after discovering the National Steel guitar, which has a cone resonator inside the body that acts as a kind of amplifier, and is featured on Scenes from Nek Chand, with the instrument set up in 'just intonation'.

Guitarists will want to explore David Tanenbaum's Serenado; for the general listener Drums Along the Pacific will probably be the better first choice of these latest releases which follow Lou Harrison's recent sudden death, en route to a festival in his honour.

Keyboard players and early music enthusiasts should certainly consider also Linda Burman-Hall's recording of Lou Harrison's complete harpsichord music, which explores numerous historic and experimental tuning systems - he abhored 'equal temperament'. The cover pictures give a flavour of New Albion's lively presentation, and for details about the individual pieces a click onto their website tells everything you could wish to know.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Review in Early Music Review 2002 (also Classical London)
Lou Harrison Complete Harpsichord Works & music for fortepiano and tack piano
Linda Burman-Hall New Albion NA117CD

Lou Harrison (b. 1917) dedicates this CD to apostates of the 'dull grey' of equal temperament, claiming the 'natural right to tune pieces in ways to enhance musical beauty'. A one-time friend and associate of John Cage, Harrison studied with Schoenberg and Henry Cowell and remains active as a music explorer, with a particular interest in early tuning temperaments. This is a fascinating CD, which will give pleasure at several levels.

The music dates from the 1940s to 1999, with six sonatas which evoke the world of Scarlatti and Falla, and several pieces played on a tack piano (i.e. with drawing pins stuck into the hammers). The presentation is exemplary, with a compendious booklet illustrated with graphic representations of Werkmeister III, Kirnberger ½ Syntonic Comma, and Stanhope Well Temperament tunings, and Harrison's own 1955, 7-limit Just Intonation; exotic and arcane mysteries which are beautiful to see and to sharpen listeners' ears.

Linda Burman-Hall is a cultural musicologist and versatile performer based in California, director of the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival. She plays four instruments here with verve and aplomb, and her other CDs leave no doubt that the scene is a lively one. Boismortier's music for 1-4 flutes (Leta Miller with L M-H & the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival Ensemble) is on Musical Heritage Society MHS 514082Z, and her CD of Haydn and The Gypsies (Solo and Chamber Music in style hongrois) features Monica Huggett and is a sheer delight: Kleos Classics KLS101.
Peter Grahame Woolf

New Albion Records
584 Castro Street #525
San Francisco, CA 94114-2594
t: 415/621.5757; f: 415/621.4711


© Peter Grahame Woolf