Stony Brook Soundings, Vol. 2

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Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, NY -- which is located out on Long Island, about 55 miles west of New York City -- boasts a first-class music department: Gilbert Kalish serves as director of performance activities, the Emerson String Quartet is in residence there, and the names of violinist Soovin Kim, pianist Christina Dahl, and flutist Carol Wincenc may be found among the instructors listed on Stony Brook's illustrious roster. Stony Brook holds an annual festival devoted to contemporary music utilizing the considerable talents of its own Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players, co-led by Kalish and percussionist Eduardo Leandro. With two discs entitled Stony Brook Soundings, Bridge pays tribute to Stony Brook and its expert musicians in compositions by faculty members and at least one student; Stony Brook Soundings, Vol. 2, is the one under consideration here.

Sheila Silver, Peter Winkler, Daria Semegen, and Margaret Schedel are all faculty members at Stony Brook, whereas Tyler Capp is a former student. Silver's Twilight's Last Gleaming (2007) follows in a long tradition of great works for multi-hand piano ensembles and percussion that also includes Béla Bartók's Sonata for 2 pianos & percussion (1937) and George Antheil's smaller, heavily revised version of Ballet mécanique (1954). However, it has a very different intent in that it reflects the dismay and disappointment felt by many Americans during the latter days of the Bush Administration with its two simultaneous wars and interventionist foreign policy. Fragments of "The Star-Spangled Banner" drift through the final movement like bits of confetti from a tickertape parade, there is some very skillful matching of sonorities between the pianos -- played by Kalish and Dahl -- and the percussion, played by Leandro and Kevin Dufford. Overall, Twilight's Last Gleaming is a splendid, effective, and very well-realized piece, though its political profile might run counter to some tastes. Peter Winkler's Fantasy for cello septet (2007) is by comparison completely apolitical and wryly humorous, running a musical gamut from a thick cluster chord in the first movement to a sunny, merry "Slow Drag" in the last. Daria Semegen's Vignette (1997) is a surprise; although Semegen is best known as a pioneer in the field of electronic music, this is a wholly non-electronic, and impassioned, work for solo piano, expertly played by Cathy Callis. Tyler Capp's Stranger Variations for solo violin (2008) is an engaging piece based on the folk tune "Wayfaring Stranger"; violinist Claudia Schaer gets the work off to a strong start, but at least in this recording her sense of involvement with it seems to flag in its last couple of minutes. Computer music composer Margaret Schedel's The Beautiful Don't Lack the Wound (2009) is an interactive electro-acoustic work written for tarogato and electronics; a lonely, scarred voice rising up out of the silence, the piece seems to have a hard time getting off the ground and whether one will stick with it as long as it needs may be a matter of taste.

Like it or not, the idea that music conservatories in the hinterlands serve as the last bastion of the new music of the 1970s has been advanced as a casual, customary piece of conventional wisdom. Although not really in the hinterlands -- Stony Brook's relative closeness to New York City and its thriving concert scene is no doubt a part the appeal of holding a position there -- Bridge's Stony Brook Soundings, Vol. 2, does successfully counteract such conventional wisdom, and offers some challenging, fresh, and enjoyable listening.

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