Matthew Greenbaum is the only composer in New York to be a mentee of both Stefan Wolpe and Mario Davidovsky. Wolpe was one of the many great minds who were forced to our shores by historical circumstances, and arriving here, found that there was interest in what they had to offer. Stravinsky, Hindemith, Krenek, Schoenberg, as well as Stefan Wolpe all tried to put down roots in the Western Hemisphere, with varied success. Or, perhaps it’s more fair to say that their influence is paying off very slowly over a long period of time.
Brickle seduces listeners with luscious harmonies and a deft melodic sense. A master of vocal writing, he elicits a multitude of sharply etched vocal personae from his two singers, Haleh Abghari and Elizabeth Farnum. In The Creation, Abghari, as God, lovingly sings of the creation's bounty of forms,day by day, culminating on the 4th and 5th days with a deeply moving kind of bluesey American weltschmertz. The mystery play continues with the angels, Lucifer, and his fall, as Abghari becomes the irresistable embodiment of a boy soprano, a loveable little solipsist who eventually gets his comeuppance. Elizabeth Farnum opens the recording with Farai un vers, Brickle's setting of a famous and famously enigmatic poem by Guillaume D'Aquitaine, the "first troubadour," set in its original language, Occitan. Farnum shakes the rafters with her jaunty-slapstick-cabaret delivery -- Edif Piaf & Lotte Lehmann meet Rosemary Clooney and the Andrews sisters. The CD also includes several exquisite little miniatures. Among them are Genius Loci, for mandolin and guitar, a bizarre little newgrass aria; and Midnight Round, for four electric guitars, a psychedelic riff on the Thelonious Monk tune, Round Midnight. Rounding out the album are two transcriptions for the Cygnus "broken consort": a fin-de-siecle gem by Busoni, and an 11th century masterpiece by Perotin.
Cygnus is one of the most intriguing new music ensembles to have emerged in recent years. With its mixed instrumentation of winds, strings and plucked sounds, Cygnus offers the present day composer a bold new spectrum of colorful combinations to write for. And given the ensemble’s devotion to commissioning new repertoire from a stylistically broad range of composers, combined with the virtuosity with which these pieces are performed, Cygnus presents a consistently exotic and entertaining listening experience. The disc begins with David Claman’s gone for foreign- a flashy, exuberant suite in five movements, which draw from an Indian-inflected quasi-rock idiom. William Anderson’s A Giddy Thing for mandolin and pre-recorded midi plucked sounds takes its inspiration from a comment at the end of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The Japanese/American composer Akemi Naito’s Mindscape integrates the experimental with the conventional: sensuous melodies co-exist side by side with multiphonics; conventional notation sits alongside graphically notated music. Throughout, Naito’s sensitive and poetic ear shapes the musical flow. Rolv Yttrehus’s Plectrum Spectrum is a tour de force of rhythmic energy, using Cygnus’s full complement of plucked instruments- mandolin, banjo and guitars. Milton Babbitt’s beautiful Swan Song No. 1 is remarkable for its relaxed and transparent instrumental interplay- the full ensemble rarely playing at the same time, the flow of the music, inexorable. All of the pieces on this recording were composed for Cygnus.