AMN Reviews: Douglas Boyce – The Hunt By Night [New Focus Recordings fcr290]

The Hunt by Night is the second monograph recording of chamber music from composer Douglas Boyce. Boyce, who is on the faculty of Washington DC’s George Washington University, often takes his inspiration from early music as well as from contemporary modes of composition. This comes out most explicitly in his Quintet l’homme armé, a piece for clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and piano performed here by members of the counter)induction ensemble, a group which Boyce co-founded. Boyce takes the late medieval melody L’homme armé and subjects it to a thorough refiguration in which it is transubstantiated into something with a completely contemporary sound.

The title track, The Hunt by Night, Quire 9 No. 3 is from Boyce’s Book of Etudes. The piece appared previously on the counter)induction album Against Method; in my review of that album I described it in these pages as “a trio for clarinet, cello, and piano that uncoils with a spry, loping energy that recalls the spirit of Les Six.” Stretto Perpetuo, Quire 4 No. 1 for cello and piano, is another one of Boyce’s twenty-one etudes. The object of this vigorous piece’s study is rhythmic, hence its foundation in a rhythmically varied, urgently repeated single note that cellist Schyler Slack and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute pass around between themselves.

Sails Knife-bright in a Seasonal Wind is a trio for violinist Miranda Cucskon, guitarist Daniel Lippel and percussionist Jeffrey Irving. This is a sparely written piece that allows each individual voice to stand out with clarity against a background of open space; in particular, Lippel’s finely etched, plucked tones contrast tellingly with Cuckson’s bow work.

The Hunt by Night also contains the Piano Quartet No. 2, an essay in microtonality for strings.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: counter)induction – Against Method [New Focus Recordings FCR278]

The chamber ensemble counter)induction, a group that has dedicated itself to the performance of new music since it came on the scene at the end of the last century, takes its name from a concept in philosopher Paul Feyerabend’s classic work Against Method, which is also the title of their latest album. Counterinduction, roughly, is a critical method of opposing a theory or concept with a counterpart drawn from outside of the target theory’s ordinary frame of reference. In practical terms it entails an embrace of critical pluralism, which seems to have been the concrete inspiration counter)induction took from it. With its selection of six diverse works by just as many composers, Against Method the album neatly encapsulates the group’s musical pluralism.

The opening track, Douglas Boyce’s The Hunt by Night, is a trio for clarinet, cello, and piano that uncoils with a spry, loping energy that recalls the spirit of Les Six. It’s an engaging lead-in, and oddly, perhaps the least “contemporary” sounding of the works represented. Kyle Bartlett’s Before for guitar, bass clarinet and cello follows and changes the atmosphere dramatically. In contrast to The Hunt by Night’s melodic continuity, Before features bursts of fragmentary lines and long tones, and makes generous use of unpitched sounds. Ein Kleines Volkslied by Alvin Singleton, originally commissioned by Bang on a Can, draws on elements of rock and jazz—Dan Lippel’s distorted electric guitar chords and Randall Zigler’s pizzicato basslines add just the right flavor—and includes a fine feature for vibraphone at its center. Jessica Meyer’s Forgiveness, the only piece on the album incorporating electronics, uses a loop pedal to transform a hymn-like solo performance by bass clarinetist Benjamin Fingland into an accumulating, virtual reed ensemble. In another abrupt contrast of styles, Forgiveness is followed by Ryan Streber’s neoclassical Piano Quartet—a lushly beautiful, harmonically rich piece. The album closes with Argentinian composer Diego Tedesco’s Scherzo for guitar, clarinet, violin, viola, and cello. Although billed as a musical joke—and the repeated motif of descending chromatic lines does sound like a bagful of broken toys falling down a flight of stairs—the piece makes sophisticated use of pizzicato textures from the guitar and other strings.

http://newfocusrecordings.com

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Douglas Boyce – Some Consequences of Four Incapacities [New Focus FCR205]

The music of composer Douglas Boyce reflects an eclectic set of influences and interests. He has turned pre-Baroque music for inspiration as well as raw material; at the same time, he is conversant with contemporary compositional language rooted in Modernism. On Some Consequences of Four Incapacities, Boyce presents recent work in a contemporary vein. The string trio 102nd and Amsterdam is a sonic portrait of an intersection in upper Manhattan: the energy of an urban crossroad translated into vertiginous glissandi, frantically pulsating rhythms and the often dissonant coincidence of independently moving voices. The rhythmic cohesion and propulsion of the string trio find a counterpart in Piano Quartet No. 1 for violin, viola, cello, and piano. The piece’s asymmetrical but regular rhythms and heavy chords wittily acknowledge—and reveal the congruence between—two of Boyce’s early influences: Bartok and King Crimson. The CD closes with the well-crafted, thirty-five minute-long Fortuitous Variations, a four-part composition for piano, violin, and cello.

http://www.newfocusrecordings.com

Daniel Barbiero