Lou Harrison's ambitious composition "La Koro Sutro" (translated from Esperanto as "Heart Sutra") does not simply borrow from the gamelan tradition of Indonesia. An Americanized gamelan ensemble, with instruments built by William Colvig utilizing more Western tunings, allows Harrison's composition a new, more stable sonic texture, and the ability to add various different percussive sounds that build on the virtues of the ancient metallophone. The American gamelan is complemented by the 100-voice choir of the University of California, Berkeley, along with harp, violin and organ players, and percussion instruments consisting of inverted metal garbage cans, bell-like oxygen tanks with stripped bottoms, brake drums, aluminum sheets, and a gigantic over six-foot triple contrabass metallophone made of huge PVC pipes, tin can resonators, and steel and aluminum components. You cannot imagine the sound produced until you hear it, and it is otherworldly. The nearly 30-minute title track is very modern and also traditionally pan-Asian, using distinct Javanese rhythms under the soaring vocal choir, and bright, shimmering layered percussion underneath. This eight-movement composition always keeps you guessing and commands your interest, whether the mood is chiming, vocally towering, mysterious, animated, reverent, or heavy. Actually, it's perfect holiday music. The one theme extrapolated upon from the original motif is "Strofo 6," elongated from the introductory "Kunsonoro Kaj Gloro." As the second stand-alone piece, "Varied Trio" is quite different and more chamber-like, as the percussion playing of William Winant dominates early, while violinist David Abel takes over on the wringing emotions of the third segment, "Elegy," and pianist Julie Steinberg joins in the joyous terpsichore of "Dance." The finale, "Suite for Violin and American Gamelan," has seven parts, with the three-part "Jhala" inserted in the middle. It is very delicate and traditionally Balinese, surrounded by the upbeat and interactive "Estampie" and the funereal finale, "Chaconne." A wondrous recording of depth, substance, and spirit, not to mention high-quality musicianship, it might very well be Harrison's magnum opus. This composition, including the transport of instruments, has toured the United States courtesy of the Fort Lewis College Percussion Ensemble of Colorado. If you have the opportunity to witness this spectacle, don't let it pass. Meanwhile, you have this beautiful recording to treasure and enjoy for the rest of your life.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos
|La Koro Sutro, for chorus, percussion, harp, organ & American Gamelan (also arr. for chorus & orchestra)|
|Varied Trio, for violin, piano & percussion|
|Suite for Violin and American Gamelan (collab. with Richard Dee)|