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30.8.13

Briefly Noted: Inscape's CD Debut

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Sprung Rhythm, Inscape Chamber Orchestra, R. Scerbo

(released on July 30, 2013)
Sono Luminus DSL-92170 | 82'36"
Among the ensembles that play a lot of contemporary music in the Washington area, the programs offered by the Inscape Chamber Orchestra intrigue me the most. Since the group was founded, in 2004, I have reviewed their concerts only twice -- at the National Gallery of Art in 2011 and at their home base, the Church of the Redeemer in Bethesda, in 2008. (Michael also reviewed a 2007 concert at the National Gallery.) Their debut recording, on the Sono Luminus label, reminds me that I should take in more of their concerts, even if it means a trip to Bethesda. I have already recommended Inscape's season opener, in the Mansion at Strathmore (September 12), which will include a couple pieces from the CD, plus some Ravel and a world premiere by Joseph Hallman. Those who attend that concert will receive a copy of this CD with the cost of their tickets.

All of the music recorded here is for acoustic instruments -- no computers, no electronic processing -- and it is music that is long on harmonic and melodic interest and blessedly short on intellectual or mathematical gimmicks, without sounding overly neo-Romantic or derivative. The most beautiful examples are pieces by Philadelphia-based composer Joseph Hallman, beginning with Three Poems of Jessica Hornik, sentiment-laden songs written for the pretty, intonation-sure voice of soprano Abigail Lennox, who sings them here. Showing off Hallman's sure handling of instruments even more are the Imagined Landscapes, miniatures based on the nightmarish dreamscapes of H. P. Lovecraft that exploit all sorts of unexpected sounds. Two pieces by Washington-based composer Nathan Lincoln-DeCusatis also reward repeated listening: the rhythmic chaos but still cogent structure of A Collection of Sand and the dissection and deconstruction of a short passage from a Chopin ballade in Chopin Syndrome. Justin Boyer's Con Slancio is in a style that often sounds like a mix of minimalism, blues, and American folk (dangerously close to Mark O'Connor at times), a sort of hoedown for bass clarinet and string quartet.

The program is augmented by three bonus tracks, another piece by Justin Boyer, called Auguries, a whimsical dramatization of a story from Cicero about a man using bird divination to track down his missing pig. The superstitious bumpkin's adventures are depicted in a series of charming bassoon solos, played with buffoonish grace by Benjamin Greanya. Oddly, the extra nine minutes of music are available only on a companion Blu-Ray disc, which contains only sound (no video) and plays on neither standard CD players nor computer drives.

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