Multiplicities '38

Blair McMillen

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Multiplicities '38 Review

by James Manheim

Multiplicities is an easy-to-hit-on title for a collection like this, but what strikes one about this program of American music by pianist Blair McMillen is that the idea of bringing together music by composers born in 1938 actually makes sense. (Note to editors: the apostrophe in a date should face the other way.) The composers included here are diverse, certainly, but all creatively came of age after the stranglehold of academic serialism had been broken, but before the return to simplicity represented by minimalism and neo-Romanticism. These composers may be dense and difficult (Wuorinen), influenced by popular music (Rzewski), or what have you, but each combines a rigorous language, not traditionally tonal but not discarding the idea of tonal centers, with a desire to communicate with audiences. McMillen focuses on music written within a decade before the recording was made, in 2007. All the pieces therefore represent mature productions on the part of their composers, and McMillen confidently deals with the shifts from the deliberate, rather mystical language of Joan Tower to Rzewski's brashness. The best is perhaps saved for last with William Bolcom's little known Bird Spirits, a set of nine short pieces (as short as 24 seconds) depicting birds in various attitudes. The compositions were suggested by drawings of a crow given to Bolcom by an artist friend, and they might provide a good starting point for a discussion of the relationships between music and art at this particular historical juncture; beyond that, they're quite charming. A useful and enjoyable disc putting together a variety of music of the twentieth century in a new way.

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