Members of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

Daniel S. Godfrey: Wrinkled Moon

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The cover of this album suggests a film score or perhaps a set of new age compositions, but the music inside is something else again, and not so easy to describe. Annotator Harlow Robinson suggests the difficulty with a rather contradictory attempt: Daniel S. Godfrey's music is "tartly pastoral." And a quoted newspaper review is similarly contradictory, alluding to Godfrey's "elegantly patrician modern style." Godfrey's music is tonal but traces its subtleties of direction and implication back to Debussy, and its mood is similarly restrained and evocative, but the harmonies are defined by the subject and structure of each piece and are not recognizably impressionist. The seven pieces included here are for small chamber orchestra or, in the case of the opening Festoons (1995), for solo piano. Most are single-movement rooted in a specific programmatic idea, but the Serenata ariosa has two movements, and From a Dream of Russia (1996), for violin, clarinet, and piano, has three. All of those are based on preexisting Russian folk or liturgical materials, but those materials flavor the work in an unusual way -- they are wrought into small musical details that define the piece's structure in an abstract way yet keep their extramusical associations. The closest parallel is again to Debussy, whose uses of Indonesian or American materials carry the overtones of the worlds those materials came from but completely shun nationalist associations. Godfrey's music has a similarly light and intelligent touch; his fanfare Pomp and Revelry (2004) offers not sclerotic brass blaring but peppy and edgy wind chords that would catch the attention of any commencement audience rather than simply reassuring it. All these short pieces repay close listening, and though given clear readings by the variety of young musicians employed here they offer plenty for other performers to chew on. Highly recommended for those interested in intelligent contemporary directions that are neither avant-garde nor neo-Romantic.

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