Swales and Angels collects together some chamber works from Kentucky-born, Brooklyn-based composer Beth Anderson. This is the first full-length disc devoted to Anderson's work in primarily instrumental forms; her electronic pieces of the 1970s are contained in a separate collection, Peachy Keen O. The essential difference between the two is that Swales and Angels contains music which, on the surface, is easy to digest, non-experimental in style, and attractive to the ear -- not quite "pretty" as critic Kyle Gann termed it. But it is also not backward-looking or based in Western traditional forms -- Anderson's Swales are fresh and open, reminiscent of a rural landscape, a nice cold drink of water, or a small pond with some cattails and Queen Anne's lace growing around it. Formally, the music unfolds in a manner rather like the way things unfold in nature, along an unpredictable path, but with familiar elements on the way.
Swales and Angels is easily the most satisfying recording of contemporary music issued in 2004 and should not be kept a secret. Anderson's work represents a new wrinkle in the fabric of current-day music that will please many listeners who may have given up in despair on the "new music" composed late in the last century. Anderson was also part of that scene, but has in a sense grown up. Anderson's music, which even in the era of new music was always about communication, has grown up with her. The listener will delight in this mature, unsentimental chamber music that nonetheless speaks of a love of old things, distant memories, and cherished knickknacks. Don't miss this one.