Six Preludes, William Bland
New Rochelle Suite, Poul Ruders (with Daniel Druckman, percussion)
Bailarín, Tania Leí³n
Three Places in New Rochelle,David Starobin (with Daniel Druckman, percussion)
Semi-Suite, Paul Lansky
David Starobin is an amazing performer, we all know this. His technique is clean and clear, making the impossible sound fluid and effortless. We forget how hard some of this music is because he performs it so well, making everything seem idiomatic. Starobin’s performances on Family Album do not disappoint on any level. The music performed is high-level stuff and the performances of each piece is flawless.
The CD uses multi-movement solo guitar music as bookends, pitting six of William Bland’s preludes (4, 3, 15, 6, 8, and 9 out of the 48 preludes Bland composed in 2005) against Paul Lansky’s Semi-Suite. Bland’s music captures the idea of “prelude” better than anything I’ve heard in recent months. These pieces are short jewels of brevity and craft. Each prelude feels like the beginning of something larger without leaving a residual absence when the prelude concludes. They are beginnings, yet they are complete and elegant.
There is nothing semi about Lansky’s suite. Each movement sparkles and ripples through the guitar. Where the Bland work (not bland by any means) is crafted of smaller gestures and moods, Lansky’s individual movements are longer and more robust. As one word of warning, the booklet that came in the CD appears to be a mistaken Frankenstein of the Starobin album with notes from Melvin Chen’s recording of Shostakovich piano music. The track listing for for everything after the Ruders piece is missing and the program notes do not provide a lot of information about the names of the Lansky movements (CDDB merely numbers the movements). I don’t know if this has been corrected in subsequent printings of the album.
The other solo guitar piece, Bailarín by Tania Leí³n, is a brief and elegant work that slithers around the guitar both melodically and rhythmically. The moments come in fits and starts and as the piece progresses the gestures become longer and more rhythmically coherent. It is everything that the other solo guitar compositions are not and makes an excellent midpoint to the disc.
Poul Ruders and David Starobin each contribute works for guitar with percussion. Both works were written to be performed by David and his daughter Allegra (hence the Family Album title for the CD). Both pieces use limited percussion resources in each brief movement and their “doing more with less” attitude of percussion writing is extremely gratifying. The Ruders composition is rather light in character but not in artistry. The movements are short and do not try to be more than they should be. Poul Ruders can do more with a snare drum and a vibraslap than most composers can do with 8 active percussionists. They are inspiring pieces as well as entertaining.
Starobin’s own composition is quite compelling. Two of the three places that inspired the work are restaurants which I find amusing in and of itself. The third piece is a rather touching and serious work connected to his wife, providing a spiritual contrast to the other two while still feeling musically necessary. Again, the percussion writing is effectively controlled. Sirens whine in the first movement, ambient water and water-gongs punctuate the middle, and larger toned gongs fill the final movement. The guitar writing is fresh, idiomatic, and poetic. I want to visit these places.