Elliott Schwartz: Hall of Mirrors

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Composer Elliott Schwartz has pursued an interesting a varied career; he has written a number of full orchestral works, was a pioneer in the use of the synthesizer in classical music, has an entire section of his worklist devoted to pieces based on game theory, and has even jammed with free jazz legend Marion Brown. As one would surmise from his association with Brown, Schwartz loves the sound of the saxophone and has written a lot of music dedicated to it; the title work of Innova's Hall of Mirrors features the Radnofsky Saxophone Quartet with Schwartz himself as pianist. Although ostensibly a set of variations on a phonetic spelling of the instrument's name -- "sachsofone" -- and including some sections involving game theory, Hall of Mirrors (2001) is anything but discursive; appropriately it is a kind of a reflection on the different qualities of the sax: its jazz voice, its French "classic" voice, clarinet-like qualities, and other things with the piano acting as though it were in a dialogue with the instruments. In Crystal: A Cycle of Names and Memories (2007), Schwartz yields the piano to Paul Hoffman, but the piece is a duet for piano and a very busy percussionist, in this case Tom Goldstein; the work is both dedicated to them and, in part, based on their names. The piece comes up very slowly, and in performance the lighting plays a key role as the musicians emerge from the darkness and sink back into it at the end, a property that the CD format is not able to accommodate; however, it is a delightful piece if one is able to wait out the very soft opening.

Kaleidoscope (1999) is composed for the interesting combination of violin, contrabass, and piano; it is an apt and practical solution to the challenge of bringing the deep, frog-like tone of the contrabass into a chamber context. The Harvard Wind Ensemble is heard, taken from a live concert, in Schwartz' Rainforest with Birds (2001); the recording quality is a little off the standard heard throughout the rest of the album; however, the piece itself is really nice, incorporating various bird calls into a controlled, free jazz-styled environment. Although he thrived in the university environment of the 1970s, Elliott Schwartz never let that get to his head; his work always had a wry sense of humor about it and such systems as he has used tends to loosen up the music rather than to lock it into a procedure. Listeners who appreciate free improvisation might well get something out of it; however, one hesitates to call it "experimental" as the experiments seamlessly wind their way into the texture as a whole. Elliott Schwartz' Hall of Mirrors is the work of a very confident and assured composer who clearly enjoys what he is doing, and listeners who seek it out may well respond to it in like manner.

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