The orchestral marimba is one of the most expressive instruments in the percussion battery, and enterprising performers such as Nathaniel Bartlett have the goal of expanding its repertoire by commissioning new pieces and arrangements of works originally written for other instruments. Bartlett has a special interest in creating multidimensional sound environments using computers and other electronics, and two of these pieces commissioned by Bartlett employ electronics. In purely musical terms, both Allan Schindler's Precipice and Greg Wilder's Interlude are attractive additions to the repertoire of music for marimba and electronics. Schindler's work in particular creates a vivid and mysterious soundscape that seamlessly integrates the acoustic and electronic worlds.
The performance of Philip Glass' Opening, originally written for piano, is a pure pleasure. Bartlett's attention to Glass' nuanced dynamics and his subtle use of rubato make the piece shimmer, and the less percussive attack on the marimba suits this piece even better than the piano. Steve Reich's Vermont Counterpoint was originally scored for amplified flute, doubling piccolo and alto flute, and tape. In this arrangement by Bartlett, the character of the work is inevitably altered by lowering the stratospheric range of the original to accommodate the marimba. The timbral variety of the high, middle, and low registers of the marimba, however, corresponds to the qualities of the piccolo, flute, and alto flute, and in Bartlett's precise performance, each contrapuntal line emerges with clarity and retains its identity and integrity. The result is earthier, woodier, but no less kinetic and satisfying than the original. The sound quality on this SACD is superb and approximates the experience of hearing the works with the spatial separation critical to Bartlett's live performances.