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CD Review

Robert Savage

An Eye-Sky Symphony

  • Cowboy Nocturne (1975) *
  • Sudden Sunsets (1989-93)
  • Florida Poems (1984)
  • An Eye-Sky Symphony (1988) **
  • AIDS Ward Scherzo (1992) ^
  • Frost Free (1987)
Musicians Accord
* David Del Tredici, piano
^ Sara Laimon, piano
** Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra/Joel Eric Suben
CRI CD790 61:22
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Summary for the Busy Executive: So-so.

Robert Savage died in 1993, age 42, of AIDS. He studied with, among others, Beeson, Weber, Rorem, Diamond, Corigliano, and Del Tredici. After his death, his friends put the money together to record these works and to issue the CD.

Under the circumstances, I wish I liked it more. A negative review becomes almost beside the point and perhaps even cruel to those who survive him. I didn't know him. I know only the music. In general, I find it bland. I have no reason to listen to it again. There's no moment of breathtaking beauty, no tension, no individual quirk, nothing that grabs my ear.

Savage wrote the Eye-Sky Symphony when he first learned he had AIDS. Of the works on this CD, this one interests me the most, but mainly for the allusions to Ives' Unanswered Question that run through all of its movements. However, the interest raised is ultimately mild and doesn't survive repeated hearings. The argumentative thread in the symphony seems more than a little slack, as it does throughout the CD's program. I find the third movement the most compelling, as Savage transforms his Ives motives into a simple, lyric, diatonic tune.

The liner notes by Severine Neff make much of the "gay" mythology behind Savage's work. If so, I don't hear it, probably because I don't know how to tell from the music itself whether a gay wrote it. It seems to me that composers are mainly themselves, rather than exhibits in this or that specialized museum. If love of Chopin and classic American pop are gay traits, then I, too, am gay. However, I thought these things were not one group's exclusive property or badge of identity. I have no idea whether Savage himself subscribed to this nonsense and if not, he should be protected from his friends. From the Department of Compulsive Correction: the liner notes call zydeco "a popular dance form." Zydeco is no more a dance or form than rock and roll. If anything, it's a genre.

The performances are mostly fine. However, Sara Laimon's piano playing seems just to sleepwalk through her portions. This music needs a committed champion, someone to make a strong case. Soprano Christine Schadeberg does beautifully in the Florida Poems, making emotional sense of Wallace Stevens's slightly abstruse text. She sings with a conversational freedom and impeccable, colloquial diction.

Copyright © 2001, Steve Schwartz