Music by Phillip Schroeder, reviewed by REX HARLEY
There is something a little earnest about the extensive details given in the
booklet accompanying this CD, especially those on composer and performers: rather
like the CV of a keen job applicant. Maybe someone felt the need to impress us
with their credentials simply because most of us, at least those living outside
Carolina, will probably never have heard of either Phillip Schroeder or Susan and
I mention this, not because the music itself bears out its provenance -- a minor,
but obviously well-funded American University -- but because I found myself enjoying
both music and performance a great deal. What should be made clear at the outset is
that, like the West Coast composers -- say Harrison or Hovhaness -- Schroeder is not
trying to break new ground. He is happy to explore the possibilities available to
him in a strongly melodic tradition, and to give them his own gentle twist,
creating expansive lyrical sound-worlds either for solo piano or, most hauntingly,
for the contrasting voices of piano and oboe, or cor anglais. In addition,
two of the pieces employ a digital delay system, allowing phrases played by the
performers to be repeated at specific intervals after they are first heard.
Borne by Currents, the first piece, uses this device and is, essentially,
built around a yearning phrase on the cor anglais with accompanying piano
arpeggios. It lasts nearly fifteen minutes, yet in no way outstays its welcome.
This is reflective, even meditative music, which draws the listener gently in.
Songs Without Words, by contrast, is a more astringent piece, making a few
more demands, harmonically, on the listener but, as pianist Dylan Savage observes
in his notes: 'the use of consonance and dissonance is so skilfully conceived that
it easily blurs the distinction between the two ...'
From the Shadows of Angels, for solo piano, dynamically subdued, explores
the contrasts between the highest and lowest notes of the instrument, and also
between pause and movement, stillness and flurries of notes. No Longer a
Stranger returns us to the same territory as where we began, but at the higher
pitch and keener timbre of the oboe.
What you will find on this disc is music which makes modest claims for itself,
which will certainly inspire no revolutions, but is both accessible and yet
grows stronger with repeated listening. The quality of recording is exemplary.