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With the central 'Blue Hills of Mist' accompanist Uchida is called upon for extensive, recurrent use of stopped (muted) strings; offsetting the violin's rhapsodic-lyrical voice. Both instruments are permitted little let up in the rhythmically challenging 'Maze' and finally 'Climb Jagged' recaptures thematic elements of the opening movement, though now the pace is furious.

Beside the usual inventory of technical wizardry this suite calls for sul ponticello, taxing intricate passagework and a need to encompass uncommon tonal variations.

Says Higdon -- 'Because I have heard Koh's virtuosic and soulful playing in many different types of music, I created a piece with a wide range of moods. almost like a small story book.' Truly in String Poetic the duo Koh and Uchida show (in 21st century usage) they own it (ie they don't even acknowledge there's a second team in town).

Charles 'Carl' Sprague Ruggles (1876-1971) was a US modernist composer; part of a group know as the American Five (with Charles Ives, John J Becker, Wallingford Riegger, and Henry Cowell). He wrote finely-crafted pieces using 'dissonant counterpoint', a term coined by influential early musicologist Charles Seeger (1886-1979) -- father of renowned folk singer Pete Seeger.

Listen -- Ruggles: Mood
(track 6, 0:00-1:04) © 2008 Cedille Records

Ruggles' atonal creations were based on non-serial methods which he worked at slowly and painstakingly. The resulting output is depressingly small.

A crusty, cigar-smoking, classically independent Yankee, Cowell described Ruggles as 'irascible, lovable, honest, sturdy, original, slow-thinking, deeply emotional, self-assured and intelligent', and by Charles Seeger as 'the most delightful character in contemporary American life.'

Apart from the musical pursuits Ruggles was also a prolific, successful artist, selling hundreds of paintings during his lifetime. Koh has chosen to include his barely six-minute Mood (1918).

A drifting, dissonant work -- after Ruggles died it was posthumously assembled from sketches by pianist John Kirkpatrick -- the result resembles a pained interlude; the sort of stuff that might be heard on the soundtrack of a intellectual 1950s black and white film focusing on moral ambiguity.

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Copyright © 2 July 2008 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


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