The re-release of Earle Brown: Selected Works 1952-1965 on New World Records will seem like the return of an old friend to many listeners. Compiled out of CRI's tapes of Earle Brown's music, which were recorded between 1952 and 1994, for release as part of CRI's American Masters series in 1996, this disc represents almost a third of Brown's tiny, highly concentrated output. The earliest piece, Octet for Eight Loudspeakers, is a key work in the history of electronic music, literally compiled alongside John Cage's pioneering Williams Mix. David Tudor is heard in his realization of December 1952, which he premiered, and alongside Matthew Raimondi and David Soyer of the Composers Quartet in Brown's Music for Violin, Cello and Piano.
The 1974 Brown LP for CRI also makes available on CD two of the really great works for large chamber ensembles that he composed: Times Five and Novara. These are atmospheric and powerful pieces that demonstrate that graphic notation systems can be very effective musically in the right hand, and make clear the impact Brown's pieces had on mainstream scoring techniques, particularly those used in television in the 1970s. It is not a compliment to state that Michael Daugherty's 1990s electronic realizations of Brown's early graphic scores are generally more interesting than his own work, but take that for what it's worth.
The sound of the mastered Earle Brown: Selected Works 1952-1965 is a vast improvement over all previous systems of delivery for this package, even the original LPs. The one track that suffers the most from tape degeneration is the 1965 Nine Rare Bits as performed by George Gruntz and Antoinette Vischer. However, these kinds of historic performances are so rare and seldom seen on domestic CD issues that we will take them in any way they come to us. Word has it that New World issued this as it felt it had waited too long to do so -- requests for the re-activation of this title have poured into the label's offices for years. It's heartening to know that New World was willing to take the time to do it right, and Earle Brown: Selected Works 1952-1965 is certainly worth the wait.