Lawrence Moss Presents a New Dawn

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MOSS: Ligeti Light / Kadisha Onalbayeva, pno / New Dawn / Kiev Philharmonic Orch.; Arnold Winston, cond / Voyagers / Composers’ Choir; Daniel Shaw, cond / Moments / Eric Kutz, cel; Audrey Andrist, pno / Grand is the Seen / Danielle Talamantes, sop; Sarah Eckman McIver, fl; Joel Ayau, pno / Gamelan for Flute & Percussion / McIver, fl; Lee Hinkle, perc / De Profundis / Khasma Piano Duo / Dreams by Day and Night / Danielle Talamantes, sop; McIver, fl; Hinkle, perc; Joel Ayau, pno / 5 Bagatelles for Percussion / Hinkle, perc / Inside, Outside: 4 Haikus for Our Time / Talamantes, sop; McIver, fl/pic / Innova INN027

This is the second CD of works by Lawrence Moss, the album’s producer, to be issued by Innova. This one features a mixture of piano, orchestral, choral, vocal and chamber works featuring a variety of different performers (see above).

We immediately enter his musical mind with the piano solo Ligeti Light, which the composer states combines his admiration for the Hungarian composer with his love of painting. There are many pauses in the music, and Moss alternates short, deft musical gestures with sparkling piano runs high up on the keyboard. There’s also a moment at 3:25 where the pianist is instructed to tap his or her instrument.

New Dawn is an orchestral tone poem based on five Tang dynasty poems, one for each (very short) movement. This music, too, uses brief gestures; it tells its stories indirectly, more via suggestion than stating things right out. Moss uses a lot of high-lying phrases, scoring them primarily for winds and high strings, and uses the orchestra in one or two sections at a time rather than as a full unit. At the 5:55 mark, we suddenly get a short but quirky waltz, as if danced by someone with one leg. Very interesting!

By contrast, I really didn’t care much for Voyagers, a choral piece based on two Walt Whitman poems—not because I don’t like Whitman (I do) but because the music sounded like that B.S. minimalist stuff you hear all the time and, what’s worse, the chorus has lousy diction. You can’t understand a single syllable of what should be singing in English. Let’s just forget this ever happened, OK?

Moments for cello and piano, the most recent composition on this disc, sounds like a stab at 12-tone music. Some of it works, particularly when he allows the music to breathe and become lyrical, but several of the fast phrases sounded a bit forced to me, as if he made a conscious effort to write this way and wasn’t really inspired. I also didn’t much like Eric Kutz’ cello tone, which was thin and pallid in both his high and low registers, but particularly the high. Hey, Eric: do us a favor and listen to Emanuel Feuermann playing Chopin’s Polonaise Brillante. That’s the way it’s done. The music here also sounded, to me, much more fragmented and less connected, as if Moss couldn’t quite decide which way to go so he chose different directions, some of which didn’t work out.

Grand is the Seen for soprano, flute and piano also uses Whitman as its basis. Soprano Danielle Talamantes has an attractive timbre but is somewhat nasal in the top range and she, too, can’t enunciate English clearly enough to be understood. Except for the spoken lines, which were clear, she could have been singing in Danish or Hungarian for all I knew. The music, however, is quite interesting, giving wide-ranging intervals to both the singer and flautist, and the piano part is a real tour-de-force.

Also very fine is Gamelan for flute and percussion, the percussion being primarily vibraphone, brass chimes and gong. This sound fascinates Moss as it also, for a time, obsessed Benjamin Britten, and I like it, too. Here, too, Moss seems much looser and more creative in his use of notes, where to put them and how to develop them, sometimes indirectly and sometimes in a linear fashion. Moss also has the flute play. at times, in a manner similar to that of bamboo or reed flutes. Very interesting!

De Profundis, written for piano duo, also has a quasi-Eastern sound wedded to its bitonal structure. Written in three sections, the third quotes a bit of Josquin des Pres’ Mass. The music here is almost entirely abstract, again interrupted by moments of silence, yet tightly woven into three good structures.

Talamantes returns to sing Dreams by Day and Night, a three-song cycle based on the poetry of Li Bai. Talamantes is no more intelligible in these songs as she was in the Whitman, and here she also spreads her tone under spressure. For me the music here is more conventional and less individualistic. I also wasn’t real thrilled by some cat whacking bongos in the background of the second song, “Of Drinking Wine.” If you’re gonna bang bongos, you better be writing something hip like the music of Fred Katz.

The 5 Bagatelles for Percussion Solo also feature bongos—in fact, they start out on bongos—but percussionist Leo Hinkle then jumps on his bass drum, gong, and other paraphernalia to create a nice mosaic of sound. Still, a percussion piece is a percussion piece; unless you’re using vibes, marimba or xylophone in the mix, your “music” isn’t going anywhere, even in those moments when the percussionist moans out a doleful note from his throat. Even though Moss does include a marimba in the fourth piece (“Duet”), Baby Dodds did it better.

And guess what? Talamantes comes back one more time for the concluding Inside, Outside: 4 Haikus for Our Time. Just between you, me and the lamppost, I always wonder what composers mean when they add the tag line, “for our time,” particularly in this case when the haikus are:

Inside car
sitting, waiting

Outside rain
drizzle, sprinkling

On the windowshield
kittenpaws
creeping

Softly

I mean, really: these haikus could apply to virtually any period of time going back at least to the 1830s when boxcars were invented. The music, however, is interesting and appealing, short phrases—generally melodic and consisting of long notes—given to both the soprano and flute. Were I able to understand anything that Talamantes sang, it would have been a great finish to the CD

And there you have it. A few so-so pieces but mostly fascinating and well-written music with a bit of stylistic variety.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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