RICHARDS: finalbells; time’s racing; My Great-aunt Julia; Conch Music; harte’s bels; The Bells Themselves: Jonathan Edwards and the American Songbook; Chicken Pull. Alan Zimmerman, cowbells; Kay Stonefelt, percussion; David Keck, bass-baritone; Paul Schiavo, oboe; Greg Purnhagen, baritone; Paul Marquardt, piano; Molly Paccione, clarinet; Adam Alter, bass clarinet; Eric Richards, whistler. New World 80673-2. 67 minutes.
[Disclaimer: I’ve known Molly Paccione (clarinet) and Paul Paccione (annotator) for many years. They introduced me to Eric Richards and his music back in 1993. I’m very pleased to have this opportunity to write a little bit about it]
The music of Eric Richards creates and gives life to an original soundworld unlike any I have ever encountered before. It is a soundworld of space, quietude, and expressive power.
Richards’ music is private in the same way that great string quartets are, probing and introspective, yet it is open and even accessible, in the best sense of that often abused word and idea. The music’s introspection is dramatically expressed by Richards’ characteristic scoring for groups of identical instruments, with most of the parts pre-recorded for performance by a soloist who then plays a part accompanied by the tape of herself playing the other parts.
The most extreme example of this procedure is Chicken Pull, for 72 clarinet parts and 4 whistlers. Molly Paccione (clarinet), Adam Alter (bass clarinet), and the composer (whistling), is a quietly teeming piece based on recordings of classic blues introductions, transcribed and rewritten. Chicken Pull is also characteristic of Richards’ work through its use of other types of music to create new sounds and forms.
In some pieces these found musical objects are placed in opposition to extramusical ideas. In The Bells Themselves: Jonathan Edwards and the American Songbook (for three pianos, with Paul Marquardt performing all three parts), abstracted bits of American show tunes are juxtaposed with the brimstone warnings of the titular Puritan preacher. The urgency of the playing and the increasing layering of the fragments as the piece progresses express a life and death struggle like those in Edwards’ sermons.
The vocal pieces on the program, My Great-aunt Julia (sung with conviction by David Keck) and harte’s bels (all five parts sung by Greg Purnhagen) reflect Richards’ e pluribus unum aesthetic in different ways. The baritone in harte’s bels accompanies himself on tape while the bass-baritone in My Great-aunt Julia gives an illusion of multiplicity through rapid juxtapositions of fragments in widely divergent registers.
finalbells, time’s racing, and Conch Music all explore various kinds of resonance””cowbells, percussion, and oboe sounds respectively. Like the other pieces on this remarkable disc, they make oblique reference to other musics or soundworlds. The performances are sensitive and musical.
I can’t give this disc any higher recommendation for those interested in absorbing, original, and thoroughly contemporary music.