Meridian (1999) — Robert Scott Thompson — Avant-garde Music

...searching, probing, non-tonal, developmental...

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 

Program Notes

Meridian features works for reduced forces, solos and duos, composed during the period from 1989 to 1997. The selection of the works for this disc was informed by a desire to feature several instruments and contrasting compositions which exploit their unique properties and potentials.

Meridian for solo flute is a virtuostic expression which features microtonal passages within the overall formal design. The musical language is quasi-serial and derives from a set of distinct sonorities which underpin the evolving melodic utterance.

Nexi for violin and viola – is concerned with the confluence of linear structure and is comprised of several short sections though is continuous in sound.

Canto (de Las Sombras) for clarinet and electroacoustic sound features the sounds of the acoustic clarinet in juxtaposition with transformed variants of them in the tape part. Numerous reasonably sophisticated techniques were used to create the prerecorded sounds.

Polychroma for piano is concerned with the evolving resonances of the instrument itself, as a kind of reverberation chamber. The work is based loosely on the formal design of the baroque rondeau, an early example of the rondo principle, yet is decidedly dodecaphonic in terms of pitch and sonority.

Sutras for violin solo is an extended work in four sections inspired by Patanjali’s philosophical tract Yoga Sutras. The materials of this work, pitches and rhythms, are created by the application of stochastic processes.

— rst


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