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CD Review

A Homage to Lou Harrison

  • Concerto for Violin with Percussion Orchestra
  • Canticle #1
  • Suite for Percussion
  • Canticle #3 for Ocarina, Guitar and Percussion
  • Fugue for Percussion
  • Song of Quetzalcoatl
  • Concerto in slendro for Violin, Celesta, Two Tackpianos, and Percussion
Enrico Balboni, violin
Támmittam Percussion Ensemble/Guido Facchin
Dynamic CDS221 DDD 75:29
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This charmingly named Italian ensemble has been around for just over a decade. Their "dynamic" work on this CD puts them in the same elevated category of bashers where one also finds Canada's Nexus and Sweden's Kroumata Percussion Ensemble.

"Charming" is not a word one expects to use about percussion music, but with Lou Harrison (born in 1917 and, last I heard, still active), all bets are off. His formative years (still in process!) were shaped by teachers Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg, influenced by colleagues such as John Cage, and enriched by the Pacific Rim. Another notable achievement is his work with Charles Ives' Third Symphony; Harrison premièred it in 1946 after personally deciphering the composer's confusing manuscript.

The works on this disc were written between 1939 (Canticle #1) and 1961 (Concerto in slendro). They display Harrison's celebration of the cultures of Indonesia, China, Japan, Korea, and the Native Americans. This celebration does not take the form of quotation. Instead, Harrison has assimilated their music and respectfully made it into something personal. Granted, he asks the players to use exotic scales, rhythms, and percussion instruments, but he is not interested in writing "World Music," except perhaps in the broadest sense of the term.

A highlight of this disc is the Canticle #3, which features the plaintive sounds of the ocarina, or "sweet potato." Also memorable is the Song of Quetzalcoatl, a concentrated depiction of a passage from the life of the Mexican god. Throughout the disc, the unexpected combination of percussion and violin is very pleasing.

The Italian players convey an appropriate feeling of relaxation in their performances. Nevertheless, their ensemble is tight and their commitment to Harrison's music is never in doubt. As for the engineering, put this CD in the player and turn up the volume - you'll be glad you did. Harrison himself wrote the descriptions of his music.

Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle