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American Festival of Microtonal Music:
, Violist &




Johnny Reinhard: Dune

Louis Babin: Mellow Tones for Johnny

Johnny Reinhard: Zanzibar

Scelsi: Maknongan

Anatol Vieru: Trio (in sixthtones)

Johnny Reinhard: Talibanned Buddhas

Stefanii Spassov and Johnny Reinhard: Duo for Kaval and Bassoon


Various performers, Johnny Reinhard, bassoon

Pitch P-200214






Harrison: Canticle #3

Partch: U.S. Highball

Mordecai Sandberg: Psalm #51, No.2

Johnny Reinhard: Qoheleth


Various performers

Pitch P-200213



Partch: I am a Peach Tree: A Midnight Farewell

Violetta Dinescu: Din Cinpoiu

Anon.: Hymnus und organum

Anon.: Coimbra Manuscript

Grainger: Free Music 2

Partch: Etude Ultrachromatique

Johnny Reinhard: Trespass

Anton Rovner: Appel à deux
Daniel Adriaan Fokker
: Septimes in de Tatrabergen

Xenakis: Embellie

Various performers, Anastasia Solberg, viola

Pitch P-200215


As with the disc Ideas, reviewed previously on these pages, these three CDs from the American Festival of Microtonal Music combine historical curios, forgotten treasures and new compositions. For those interested in the history and development of microtonal music Gems is the must-have recording. This includes Canticle #3, written in 1941 by a 24-year-old Lou Harrison, Harry Partch’s US Highball and Mordecai Sandberg’s Psalm 51 no.2, for soprano and orchestra (1944), as well as Qoheleth by AFMM director Johnny Reinhard. US Highball is the real draw – an American musical landmark – but Harrison’s Canticle should not be overlooked: it’s an exotic/junkyard fantasy moulded into rhythmic formality and stylistic coolness in a way that recalls Cage’s percussion Constructions of the same era.


Johnny Reinhard is soloist on the Bassoonist disc. This contains the most recent music, including three works by Reinhard himself. Dune explores the bassoon’s overtone possibilities and is expertly played; Zanzibar goes further and prepares the instrument in a variety of ways – the most surprising sounds recall a bass flute. But the best of the three is Talibanned Buddhas, which laments the two giant Buddhas of Bamyan destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 through mournful bassoon, keening cello and chiming, clattering percussion. It’s an achievement just to make such an instrumentation cohere, but Reinhard makes something both angry and elegaic of it. In another unusual line-up, Anatol Vieru’s Trio (in sixthtones) for bassoon, guitar and double bass has something Berio-like about it in its contrapuntal clarity and the way it sounds both cutting edge and as ancient as folksong. Unfortunately, none of the other pieces on this disc, not even Scelsi’s Maknongan, quite match these peaks, but it is interestingly unusual to hear a bassoon worked over in this sort of repertoire.


The Violist disc, performed by Anastasia Solberg, is the most recital-like and, thus, the most rewarding to listen to in sequence. Towards its centre, with Grainger’s Free Music 2 and Partch’s Potion Scene, the music on the disc compresses into narrower and narrower bands of microtones, until it seems that whole scales are found between the usual diatonic steps. Percy Grainger, Partch and Iannis Xenakis (an expansive rendition of Embellie), as well as two anonymous medieval works, mix with lesser-knowns such as Violetta Dinescu, Daniel Adriaan Fokker, Reinhard and Anton Rovner. Of these, I think I liked Dinescu’s passionate, folk-inflected, rhapsody, even if I felt it rambled through a little too much material. Fokker’s Septimes in de tatrabergen was much tighter, but, like several of these pieces, less than 90 seconds long.


Tim Rutherford-Johnson