Lee Hyla

We Speak Etruscan

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Lee Hyla's music derives largely from the post-serial, neo-romantic contemporary classical tradition, but with the occasional dollop of jazz thrown in for good measure. He has great concern for tonal colors, often evoking the work of composers like John Harbison, and sometimes verges on "traditional" melodies, though always making last-second departures. This gives many of the pieces an oddly anachronistic quality, as though plucked from somewhere in the '50s, written by a composer oblivious to Stockhausen, Cage, minimalism, or other aspects of late-20th century "classical" music. An exception is the title track, a duo for Tim Berne on baritone saxophone and Tim Smith on bass clarinet. This piece ranges from frenetic squabbling between the low horns to stately, moving, hymn-like passages, and sounds very much like something that could have been developed in downtown New York in the '90s. The two string quartets are somewhat somber affairs, affecting in some parts, overly academic in others. The remaining compositions, performed by Speculum Musicae, also fluctuate back and forth as far as holding the listener's interest. Unlike, say, Rzewski, Hyla seems ultimately reluctant to cede to his melodic inclinations, leaving his works hovering indecisively. There are pleasures to find here, but ultimately one leaves the disc feeling slightly frustrated.

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