Christian Wolff

For Ruth Crawford

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These first recordings of compositions by New York School composer Christian Wolff are perhaps the most contradictory of all the records and performances of his works. Wolff, among his NY School companions (which included John Cage, Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, and David Tudor), was the one man who advocated doing away with all notation and system: harmony, rhythm, pitch, meter, timbre, etc. Yet two of the works here, the title work, for trombone and piano (written for Ruth Crawford Seeger, the mother of Peggy Seeger and stepmother of Pete), and "Peggy," for solo or duet trombone, are both written in very conventional notation, giving performers small freedoms in creating microtonalities in restricted places in the scores. The other two works here, "Edges" from 1968 for trombone, viola, and piano, and "Snowdrop," from 1970 for trombone, piano, and violin, are all about absolute freedom. The scores call for any number of players, any instruments, without harmonic material, rhythm, pitches, etc.; in other words, they require for their completion the participation of the performer in creating the composition. That these four pieces should be included on one disc is not so unique; there is so little difference between them in the esthetic manner in which they are performed, and eventual resolution points are truly unique. The earliest work, "Edges," dates from 1968, and the last, "Peggy," is from 1993; in a span of 25 years, with a nearly complete change in his approach to composition, Christian Wolff has managed to have maintained an end result that finds freedom of sonority in all musical structures or lack thereof. It can perhaps be credited to the fact that the same players are present for the entire session, but it is something else: Wolff's determination to move away from the housing of Western music, classical in particular, and his willingness to engage the world of sound at its own level moved his composition along a line toward the place where he would find the same freedom in his own notation that he received earlier from the performer's complete participation in the score. The recording itself is exquisite. The performances, particularly by the truly gifted, even brilliant Kleeb, are stellar, and the works themselves among the most beautiful, profound, and lyrical of all Wolff's catalogue. Bravo.

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