Jeremy Beck: Pause & Feel & Hark

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Composer Jeremy Beck is touted, in an unattributed quote, as "Exhibit A in classical music's defense against the charge of being out of touch." There was a time when, indeed, the dictum of "We don't care if you listen" was something of a standard at the conservatory level. As time went on, however, composers found that such an attitude was as restrictive to the forward development of their musical efforts as it was daunting for the audiences who had to endure the results. Beck is a composer who, does, in fact, care if you listen; established systematic techniques of musical composition are as alien to him as a 13th pitch is to a twelve-tone row, as he looks into his own emotional responses for musical inspiration. Beck also turns to disciplines outside music for input on formal development schemes, such as "flashbacks, crosscutting, sharp juxtapositions of diverse material (and) the layering of simultaneous yet unrelated events."

pause & feel & hark features chamber and vocal works of Beck, who is also known for his orchestral music and for opera. Beck once studied with composer Lukas Foss, and the opening Aria da capo from Beck's Sonata No. 3 "moon" for cello and piano is sort of like a continuation of Foss' own Capriccio for cello and piano, written in an appealing style that Foss himself ultimately abandoned. The harmony in this cello sonata reflects the influence of jazz, but in a way that avoids a predictable outcome. Any contemporary composer who utilizes jazzy harmonic combinations in a chamber context runs the risk of being seen as "too new agey," and Beck comes precipitously close in the second of his songs without words for flute and harp. Nevertheless, in such music, one has to follow what he/she feels, and Beck has done that here.

A more overtly "serious" tone is struck in the monodrama black water. Sung and spoken by Jean McDonald, the piece is based on a Joyce Carol Oates text inspired by an infamous 1969 event in which the name of the place is synonymous with what happened -- Chappaquiddick. While Ted Kennedy might not like this one, the drama plays out well, and Beck's impulsive, non-linear accompaniment reflects his interest in literary/cinematic programming over the typical musical program. The spoken parts of black water are a little too quiet in the recording versus the sung parts; one is thankful to have the texts in hand, supplied in the booklet, when enjoying this work. Overall though, pause & feel & hark is very good; the purely instrumental selections represent very lyrical and lovely music that makes one want to hear more. All of Beck's music is lovingly played here, in some cases by the musicians for whom the works were written.

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