Various Artists

Jennifer Higdon: Chamber Music

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Those who follow American contemporary music even casually may have noticed that composer Jennifer Higdon has been one of very few to thread the needle, appealing equally to audiences and the professional peers who control fellowship purse strings and decide on awards like the Pulitzer Prize, which Higdon won in 2010. Part of Higdon's appeal is her colorful orchestration, but this collection of chamber works, recorded during Higdon's residence at the University of Wyoming in 2010 and 2011, does not fail to demonstrate her talents. Like Paul Hindemith, Higdon works in and respects traditional forms, yet makes something new of them. Her treatment of melody is at once rigorous and pleasantly appealing, and in fact predominantly short pieces like the ones heard here offer a good way to get a grip on her music. Consider the Trumpet Songs, which were originally conventional songs for voice and piano but receive their first recording here in a trumpet version. "Threaded" (track 8) is a virtually perfect minute of music, evolving logically and transparently from a diatonic cell at the beginning. Higdon was an orchestral player, a flutist, before she was a composer, and the idiomatic instrumental writing, especially in Song for solo flute (track 10), is another attraction here. Higdon's works have evocative titles that, unlike with so much other contemporary music, you might guess reasonably accurately without knowing them. The quality of the musicians, in an area of the U.S. not known for contemporary classical performances, is notable as well. A strong addition to the growing catalog of Higdon recordings.

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