Various Artists

Arthur Levering: Still Raining, Still Dreaming

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In his astute and entertaining program notes for this CD, Robert Carl, attempting to describe the music of Arthur Levering, reluctantly settles on the admittedly inelegant term post-neo-classical. It's not bad for conjuring up an aspect of Levering's music -- it's something like neo-classicism gone completely wild, while being disciplined at its core. Carl also offers a less technical assessment of the music -- "simultaneously natural and surprising," and that is indeed an apt characterization. The music may sometimes seem like it's on the verge of careening into chaos, but it's clear the composer is in complete control of what's going on. Levering describes one of these pieces, Still Raining, Still Dreaming, as an homage to Takemitsu, and in fact many of the works here do resemble Takemitsu, but a hyperkinetic Takemitsu, a heavily caffeinated Takemitsu, a Takemitsu on steroids, a Takemitsu with attention deficit disorder. Not that that's a bad thing; the exquisite precision and the harmonic language and gestures characteristic of the Japanese composer's work are audible, but have an entirely different effect when presented with Levering's level of frenetic energy. His music also has moments of blissful repose, but these moments are never allowed to become static; they typically begin to accelerate into hyper-drive or are interrupted by brash explosions of playful energy. That playfulness is one of the strengths of Levering's work; this is music composed with consummate skill and inventiveness, but doesn't take itself too seriously. It's never trivial, but it's fun music, and it's fun to listen to. (One of the pieces, Sppooo, takes its title from a caption in Roz Chast's transcendently goofy cartoon, Parallel Universes.) Any listener jaded by the grayness that can characterize late twentieth century academic music, but who finds little solace in the pop-tinged sounds of some post-modernist composers should be heartened to discover the intellectual integrity and color and liveliness of Levering's pieces. The performances by Boston-based Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble, conducted by Scott Wheeler, along with various soloists, are simultaneously pristine and boisterous.

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