Music by Phillip Schroeder
Amy McGinty, soprano; Robert Best, baritone; Daniel Cline, cello; Phillip Schroeder, piano, synthesizer, electric bass, percussion, and digital delays
Phillip Schroeder’s music is sparkly, calm, and extremely listenible. The seven works on this disc all feature multiple pianos (all performed by the composer) often processed with digital delays which add to the tinkly effervescent harmonies. The musical consistency of style on this recording is unlike anything else I have experienced. Listeners will know within 15 seconds if they will like this CD or not. Either you fall into the shimmering caverns of soothing textures and drown in over an hour of it or you’ll say “this is not for me” and walk away. There is no “bait and switch” or “buy my popular piece and let me throw these other lesser compositions at you” to this disc. Every moment is pure Schroeder.
The compositional unity is strengthened by the fact that all pieces were composed (or at least completed) in 2004 and 2005. Two pieces, Move in the Changing Light 2 and Move in the Changing Light 1 bookend the CD. The only difference between the two is the inclusion of Amy McGinty’s innocent soprano vocalise on #2. They each call for 5 pianos with digital delays and synthesizer, all played by the composer.
The one aberration (if you can call it that) is the miniature Make a Distinction for piano (no delays) and synth. It clocks in at a mere 59 seconds instead of the typical 8-12 minute duration of the other pieces. I have a strong suspicion that this was inspired by Robert Voisey’s most excellent 60×60 concerts, but it is just a hunch. Other than length, the piece does not differ in musical language and makes a nice centerpiece for the album.
The musical consistency, as I said before, is astonishing. This collection of pieces is one of the most single-minded batches of music that I’ve heard recently. This unity can, at times, be a liability as well as an asset. On casual listening, one never really knows when one piece is over and the other one begins. Depending on your point of view, that can be good. Sometimes I question why these 7 different pieces aren’t, in fact, one single work. Each piece has such a similar function, harmonic palette, and subdued dramatic shape, that I’m not sure what one gets out of hearing these as seven separate works as opposed to a single 62 minute epic. Done correctly, I’m sure that Mr. Schroeder’s next opus could be like 6 Sorabjis on quaaludes.
Since the composer’s hands are all over the performances, too, it makes me wonder what these pieces would sound like in a live environment. The monolithic piano textures would benefit from the idiosyncratic touches of an ensemble. Sheer logistics explains why a single piano was used for the recording: Mr. Schroeder teaches at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas and the instrument was a Bōsendorfer Imperial Grand. I sincerely doubt that HSU has 5 of the Bad Villagers squirreled away. I would, nevertheless, prefer to hear these pieces live and wallow in an even richer pool of piano sparkles.
This music pours the listener into a meditative and serene mood and wraps them soundly within the safe confines of its language. If you want serenity, you need not buy a single other CD in your lifetime.