JAFFE: Cut-Time; Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra; Poetry of the Piedmont; Homage to the Breath. North Carolina Symphony/Grant Llewellyn; David Hardy, cello; Odense Symphony Orchestra/Paul Mann; Milagro Vargas, mezzo-soprano; 21st Century Consort/Christopher Kendall. BRIDGE 9255. 64 minutes.
Stephen Jaffe provides a tour of the music that has influenced him in a brief and engaging introductory essay to this Bridge release. Jaffe was born in 1954, and the list of influences will be familiar to anyone who has followed the careers of composers of that generation, which is, by the way, my generation. The Beatles, Miles Davis, Stravinsky, Tin Pan Alley, “˜60s avant-garde””this music (the list is by no means comprehensive) has found its way into the DNA of the composers and other musicians of the generation in question in ways both obvious and subtle.
Jaffe (on the evidence of the music on this disc) wears his influences clearly but lightly. The orchestral piece Cut-Time includes direct references to a number of older pop styles, including gospel and rag, but it comes off neither as a nostalgia trip nor as musical anthropology. And at a running time of about two minutes, it is very efficient.
In the Cello Concerto (2003) the influences are buried in the music and Mr. Jaffe’s own voice carries the day. His vision of the cello soloist as an individual voice is sympathetic and expressive. Jaffe solves the acoustic problem of making the cello sound well against the orchestra with a solution out of Elliott Carter’s toolbox””the cello is aided and abetted by changing groups supporting instruments. Cellist David Hardy gives a strong and expressive performance of the demanding solo part, and Paul Mann and the Odense Symphony provide eloquent accompaniment.
The last two pieces on the disc, Poetry of the Piedmont and Homage to the Breath don’t work quite as well for me as the Cello Concerto. They are both more concrete in their eclecticism than the Concerto and their expressive content seems more on and of the surface. That said they are both very attractive pieces and the performers (the North Carolina Symphony under Grant Llewellyn in Poetry and Milagro Argas and the 21st Century Consort under Christopher Kendall in Homage) give them dedicated readings
Jaffe’s music is made from a flexible vocabulary””references to tonal centers are frequent and freely deployed, and the composer is not afraid to let his atonal side show itself when the expressive occasion demands it. The result is a style that is both new and familiar. His music deserves a wide hearing. This release should help.