Eldon Rathburn

Eldon Rathburn: Mostly Railroad Music

(CD - Crystal Records Dist. #520)

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Rathburn has created many delightful works for unusual solo instruments (steam calliope, Jew's harp, etc.) and ensembles that celebrate transportation systems. Three Calliope Pieces begins with The St. Lawrence Tubular Bridge Mazurka Polka, combining dance and charming melissima. Stravinsky on the Delta Queen, along with bits of Petrouchka, has some odd bass accompaniments and bi-tonality, and Honky-Tonks (from the film City of Gold) depicts Dawson City during the 1898 Gold Rush, with multiple saloon pianos. Junction, for multiple Jew's harps modified through electronic pitch shifting, depicts "a bewildering array of trains coming and going" at Clapham Junction, London, 1959. The Rise and Fall of the Steam Railroad is an energetic tone poem for harmonica, mandolin, banjos, guitar, piano, bass, three percussionists, synthesizer, Jew's harp, and steam calliope. There are quick sequences of "train music" in oddly accented sequences of traditional Bluegrass, Blues, Country, and Honky Tonk styles. and percussion passages depicting "the rhythm of the rails" that sound faintly Balinese. The synthesizer plays the "part of the modern computer age villain." This piece is a sheer delight. The composer's piano works include Six Railroad Preludes and Schoenberg Vs. Gershwin, built on fragments from composer friends. Dorion Crossing, for clarinet and piano, is an elegy to 22 young people, whose bus was struck by a train in the mid-60s at Dorion, Quebec. Two Railoramas, for wind ensemble, are fantasies: Dvorak at 155th Street (where he was reported to often watch the trains) and Hindemith Rides the Merchants Limited. The Nomadic Five for brass quintet is a jolly pastiche of Handel, an old pop tune with some Liszt, Beethoven, Shostakovich, Ragtime and, everyone's favorite, the farty tuba. Turbo, for brass quintet, depicts an experimental train of the Canadian National Railroad. Some delightful passages imitate the train trying to start up again, "con frustrato."

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