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ALARM WILL SOUND
a/rhythmia

Alan Pierson, conductor
Nonesuch (advance copy), 54:58.
nonesuch.com, alarmwillsound.com

Review by Steve Koenig

Fourteen tracks from composers ranging from Ciconia to Birtwistle. This twenty-member ensemble is trendy, having a previous disc Alarm Will Sound Performs Aphex Twin (an electronica group), and intelligent. Many of the works are of the post-minimalist school; if you're a Bang On A Can fan, you'll enjoy this a lot. Most of their recordings are on the BOAC label, Canteloupe, and I can easily recommend them as performers of the composers I like, such as Steve Reich.

The title explains the musical thread connecting all these works. Most of them have repetitive figures, but often release them and go off to varied moods and rhythms, as in Harrison Birtwistle's Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum.

For me, this is a curate's egg, but one I'm delighted to have for a majority of the pieces. Listen to the live performance of the Birtwistle piece on their website (as well as excerpts from their other CDs) to allay any doubts.

  1. "Jitterbug mécanique" from Animals and the Origins of Dance (Benedict Mason)   1:35

    Minimalism meets Carl Stallings meets Antheil. A great piece which belies its brief timing. The British composer makes good yet again.

  2. Yo Shakespeare (Michael Gordon)   11:16

    It's in several connected sections. First, four minutes of facile post-minimalism, then a quiet section that sounds like squeaky tire wheels and builds to a thicker texture, and then some other things. II confess I find most of Mr. Gordon's works dull, and do so here, although I really like the texture the electric guitar adds within the ensemble.

  3. "Camouflage des Agréments" from Animals and the Origins of Dance (Benedict Mason)   1:33

    The least of the movements here from Mason's Animals series. It begins Aoelian harp-like, then turns plucky (I should say plucking) minimalism, ending on a flute obbligato.

  4. "Movimento preciso e meccanico" from Chamber Concerto (György Ligeti)   3:51

    It's interesting to hear this apart from the Chamber Concerto. The title tells all, except that it is ascerbic and bracing.

  5. Dessert Search for Techno Baklava (Mochipet, arr. Stefan Freund)   3:00

    Repetitive forms but from the Slavic-Mediterranean School, with tasty hand-drumming, NY-style taxi horns, and whirling Arabic reeds.

  6. Le Ray Au Soleyl (Johannes Ciconia, arr. Gavin Chuck)   2:47

    For voices, hand drums, strings. I prefer my Ciconia the old-fashioned way.

  7. "Highland Balls and Village Halls" from Animals and the Origins of Dance (Benedict Mason)   1:32

    Another delicious morsel.

  8. Player Piano Study 6 (Conlon Nancarrow, arr. Yvar Mikhashoff)   3:42

    A bolero, clever and enjoyable. The late pianist and educator Yvar Mishakoff is sorely missed.

  9. Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum (Harrison Birtwistle)   9:01

    I thought for sure I had another performance in my collection, but I didn't until now. What savory textures and rhythms! Many lurch forward, as Bernstein does. Those afraid of Birtwistle needn't fear; the work is complex, but easy to fathom on first hearing. Excellent.

  10. "Dégringolade des Pingouins" from Animals and the Origins of Dance (Benedict Mason)   1:37

    The title more or less means "The Penguins Tumble Down." Complete with slide whistle. Do penguins quack? Here too one hears some Bernstein.

  11. "Agnus Dei II" from Missa L'homme armé super voces musicales (Josquin des Prez, arr. Payton MacDonald)   1:48

    Winds doing the melody over a minimalist underpinning. It grows grand, like a mechanical organ. It makes me queasy the way Phil Glass' Koyaanisqatsi does.

  12. Cfern (Autechre, arr. Dennis DeSantis)  5:45

    Noirish arrangement of a work by an electronica/techno group. Not much more to be said.

  13. "Disgraceful Bossanova with Lemurs" from Animals and the Origins of Dance (Benedict Mason)   1:33

    Not at all disgraceful, and the bossa is hard to detect, but charming.

  14. Player Piano Study 3A (Conlon Nancarrow, arr. Derek Bermel)   5:36

    Boogie woogie with Benny G. and the guys. Great fun and a perfect closer.



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