Never Final, Never Gone is Beck's third Innova CD and consists of works that are predominantly "early" for Beck, dating from 1988 to 1996, though all of the recordings, save that of title work and the percussion piece Kopeyia, were made in the twenty first century. It is apparent from the start that Beck's concern for communication and naturally evolved dramatic form was already in place at this stage of his endeavors. The Toccata from the Four Piano Pieces is the earliest work, dating from 1988; it's a spirited and attractive encore, which immediately imparts a feeling of warmth and familiarity; the remaining piano pieces are either expressive or rhythmically dynamic and are played with care and enthusiasm by pianist Heather Coltman. Kopeyia is a joyous din of spicy rhythm that sounds almost like kids jamming on pots and pans in the public park, until you realize that this is the Percussion Ensemble of the University of Northern Iowa. It takes a certain amount of skill to write something for a formal ensemble that comes out sounding informal, and this is what Beck has achieved.
Also included on the program are two works for solo instrument and piano, a sonata for flute, and Beck's Sonata No. 2 for violin. The flute sonata was originally premiered by legendary flute virtuoso Alexa Still; here it is played by Cynthia Ellis with Roberta Garten as accompanist. The sonata takes considerable advantage of the natural voice of the flute and the various, scalar gestures and trills native to the instrument but never falls into a pit of diaphanousness; it is lightly neo-classical, but not dated sounding. The Violin Sonata, played by Tatiana Razoumova of the Nevsky String Quartet with pianist Maria Kolaiko, is also well-suited to the instrument, but here the accompaniment and soloist are more strongly linked, working toward a common emotional goal. The remaining piece, the string quartet Shadows & Light, is in a tougher idiom than the rest, informed by the example of Russian music heard when Beck was teaching in St. Petersburg in 1993. Although the premiere of the piece was given in Iowa, here it is played by the Nevsky String Quartet, a Russian group, and they get just the right balance of lyricism and bite out of the work.
Never Final, Never Gone, at least in part, represents a continuation of some of the concepts visited in his previous release, pause, feel, and hark, although with less of a programmatic feel in some cases. It shows that abstraction is not alien to Beck's vocabulary, and the wide geographic distribution of some of these pieces -- and the artists for whom they are intended -- demonstrates that Beck likes to tailor his work to fit the occasion wherever he is. This sense of relating one's work to the place one is in is a thread of endeavor that stretches from Adémar de Chabannes -- the first Western composer whose name we know -- up through Jelly Roll Morton and beyond. Jeremy Beck respects and values this tradition; by relating his work in this way, Beck is able to establish indissoluble links to places and people even though life moves one around. In this sense, the resultant break is indeed "never final," and the connections are "never gone."