If you mostly know Robert Scott Thompson for his “ambient” and electroacoustic works (e.g., Frontier, Forgotten Places, The Silent Shore, Blue Day), you might be surprised to learn that he has a very impressive resume as a contemporary classical composer (he has a Ph.D. and M.A. in composition from UC San Diego, and is a Professor Emeritus of Music Composition).
This marvelous album is an excellent, excellent way to introduce yourself to to RST’s “classical” side. Don’t be put off by the fact that Amazon’s “Editorial Reviews” states that “The style of this music is AVANT-GARDE classical.” In this context, “avant-garde” doesn’t mean indeterminate sounds of a John Cage, shrieking dissonances of a Penderecki, or minimalist ramblings of a Terry Riley; it simply means “modern”; contemporary. (No retro “Neo-Tonal” music a la John Rutter, for example.)
Four of the five pieces pieces collected here (written over about ten-year period period; several works were revised) are for a solo instrumentalist (or soloist with electronics), and one is for a string duo.
The title work is for a solo flute; it’s compositionaly very challenging to make music for an unaccompanied wind instrument interesting—cf. Berio’s Sequenza I (Berio: Sequenzas), or Varese’s Density 21.5 (Varèse: The Complete Works)—but RST accomplishes it. (With help from some very impressive performers, such as Amy Porter on flute.) The violin/viola duo is brilliantly scored, so that it almost sounds like a quartet, at times. The Canto for clarinet and tape melds the two into a seamless fabric, so that the two sources genuinely compliment each other. Thankfully, Thompson eschews virtuosic “pyrotechnics,” although the music is definitely challenging for the performer.
The music is searching, probing, non-tonal, developmental—at times, even plaintive—yet never (or seldom) harsh or painful to listen to. Lovers of contemporary classical, electronic music, ambient, and others will great enjoy this album!
— Steven H. Propp