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Improvisatory style

Music by
Douglas Bruce Johnson,
reviewed by

Zimbel    ZR105

Territory of the Heart - Music of Douglas Bruce Johnson. Zimbel Records ZR105

Douglas Bruce Johnson, born in 1949, is a Californian composer who has over the years created instrumental music and songs, choral and orchestral music, and declares an interest in seeking 'an immediate connection with listeners' emotions, with their bodies, and their minds ...' Perhaps a strange way of putting it, and on the face of it not many would know how to disagree. But it is difficult to discover quite what his improvisatory style does for mind, body and soul.

The CD contains a cycle of five songs with the title Songs of Time, of Love, of Wonder dating from 1994: one Emily Dickinson poem, another a translation from the Latvian, and three on poems by May Sarton of which the opening of The Light Years promises much [listen -- track 4, 0:00-0:51] but, in keeping with Johnson's style, meanders away into that improvisatory world which, for me at least, lacks firm focus. Sadly the minimal notes do not provide any of the song texts. There are some quite powerful passages elsewhere. The opening of the technically challenging piano piece ... at evening, in the shadow of the volcano, they are dancing ... is one such [listen -- track 7, 0:03-1:13], played by he for whom it was written, Anthony de Bedts.

The most substantial works are for string quartet: a lengthy memorial to his father, Il terzodecimo canto (the part of Dante's Inferno dealing with suicides) which, again, has a strong opening [listen -- track 6, 0:03-1:20] but tends to wander thereafter; and Two Essays, perhaps the most satisfying pieces on the disc, both celebrating Padua and its environs, a distinctly chilly Winter Landscape and the rich Italian spring warmth of Parade in the Rain [listen -- track 9, 2:05-3:04].

The pieces are well played, and the recording careful and clear, but I miss a disciplined compositional structure and succinct musical argument. The titles are good though!

Copyright © 4 June 2005 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK


Territory of the Heart - Music of Douglas Bruce Johnson

ZR105 Stereo NEW RELEASE 56'35" 2004 Zimbel Records

Elizabeth Anker, contralto; Leslie Amper, piano (Songs); Gregory Vitale, violin; Christine Vitale, violin; Jennifer Stirling, viola; Emmanuel Feldman, cello (Il terzodecimo canto); Anthony de Bedts, piano (... at evening ...); Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello (Two Essays)

Douglas Bruce Johnson (born 1949): Songs of Time, of Love, of Wonder (1994) for voice and piano; Il terzodecimo canto (1999) for string quartet (Ralph Kenneth Johnson (1914-1963) in memoriam); ... at evening, in the shadow of the volcano, they are dancing ... (1992) (piano solo); Two Essays for String Quartet (1993): Winter Landscape; Parade in the Rain


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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular series of shorter CD reviews