This recording by Iowa's Red Cedar Trio captures the results of a commission similar to the one that resulted in Beethoven's "Diabelli" Variations, Op. 120 -- a group of Iowa composers was asked to write one variation each on a theme derived from that of the Scherzo movement of Dvorák's "American" string quartet in F major, which was written in Spillville, IA, in 1893. The theme, thought to represent the song of the scarlet tanager, is an attractive target for variations with its pentatonic scale, clear sectionality, and rhythmic-motivic construction. The variations are for the flexible combination of flute, guitar, and viola. Not all the composers came from academic backgrounds, and the variety of treatments is delightful. Sample the inventive bluesification of the them in Pat Smith's "Spillville Blue" variation, track 14, or its transformation into a fugue by Dan Knight, track 12. Several composers tied the theme back to Eastern European backgrounds -- an idea also taken up in one of the two longer pieces on the album, Jerry Owen's Gypsy Variations. Some composers went well over the specified one-minute limit, but their slower variations allowed the compilers to structure the whole set into a coherent sequence with tempos that vary and then return to that of the theme. Some of the composers merely have Iowa ties; the best known among the group is Michael Daugherty, who was born in Iowa but has spent his career mostly in Michigan. This "Group Commissioning Project" could easily be replicated anywhere, with music related somehow to the particular locale involved, and it represents an ideal way of involving various kinds of community musicians in a concert-music presentation.
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