LANSKY: Etudes and Parodies (2004); Semi-Suite (2001); Ricercare Plus (2000, 2004). William Purvis, horn; Curtis Macomber, violin; Mihae Lee, piano; David Starobin, guitar; Brentano String Quartet. BRIDGE 9222 65 minutes
Paul Lansky is well-known for the large body of electronic music he has produced over his long career. According to Mr. Lansky’s notes for the new disc of his recent instrumental music:
I was comfortable, successful, and imagined sailing happily into senior citizenship doing nothing more than sitting at home in my bathrobe crafting sounds on my computer. Then as I zoomed past my 50th birthday I gave in to the urgings of some instrumentalists to write pieces for them . . .
I, for one, am glad he gave into those urgings, some of the fruits of which can be heard on this outstanding Bridge disc.
Etudes and Parodies is a substantial seven-movement piece for horn, violin, and piano. (This bring me to the only real issue I have with this release””Mr. Lansky’s titles. They are often misleadingly modest, as in the case of Etudes and Parodies, which is a far more ambitious work than the title suggests, or downright cutesy, as in the case of Semi-Suite. It’s a quibble, I know, but I can’t help but wonder if these titles ill-serve the composer and his music.)
The many virtues of all of the pieces on the program are amply displayed in the trio. The music is tonal and memorably melodic, without ever being cloying or backward looking. The rhythmic energy, which has always been an important component of the composer’s electronic music, is even more apparent in this music, with the instruments giving syncopations a punch that is really only hinted at in computer generated sound. Mr. Lansky’s structural sense, his feeling for how sounds move through time, is sure and poetic. Etudes and Parodies seems to end with a fast, final climax. That expectation is thwarted, however, with a lyrical slow movement.
The guitar writing in Semi-Suite is idiomatic and subtle. The piece includes references to guitar techniques from many musical traditions, subsumed into Mr. Lansky’s individual voice. Its form is that of a Baroque dance suite, and it really does dance.
The program closes with Ricercare Plus, a three movement piece for string quartet that references the past in structural (the repeating patterns of the “Ricercare”) and playing (long passages without vibrato) techniques. Like the other pieces, Ricercare Plus acknowledges the past with longing for it.
The performances are nothing short of remarkable. This music is not easy to play, but the incredibly clean and expressive readings make it sound like it is. Bridge’s sound is, as with every Bridge disc I’ve heard, warm, present, and full.