Various Artists

Charles Wuorinen: On Alligators

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Charles Wuorinen's music defies categorization, as this extremely varied 2005 release from Tzadik demonstrates; yet the difficulty is due not to eclecticism or inconsistency on Wuorinen's part, but to his extraordinary range, technical versatility, and fecund imagination. On Alligators for octet (1972) is a complicated, late-modernist piece, somewhat along the lines of Elliott Carter's contrapuntal chamber works, but with a light touch in its whimsical depiction of ferocious animals. The String Quartet No. 4 (2000) is utterly serious in its development of sparse and dense textures, and seems theoretical and abstract; yet the Brentano Quartet's impassioned and sensitive playing lends an emotional dimension that softens the work's harder edges. Natural Fantasy for organ (1985), composed using Mandelbrot's fractal theory, is the most somber, meditative selection; Kevin Bowyer's controlled performance makes it seem almost static, despite the myriad, miniscule changes in rhythms and stops. The Piano Concerto No. 3 (1983) is the most accessible work, not so much for any compromises in Wuorinen's practices, but for the communicative performances that make it come alive. Vigorously played by Garrick Ohlsson and the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Herbert Blomstedt, the Concerto is by far the most vivid work on the disc, and the easiest to grasp in its structure and drama.

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