Chicago Pro Musica Plays Rapchak & Neil

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RAPCHAK: Troika. W. NEIL: Project Phoenix* / *Barbara Ann Martin, sop; *Carl Grapentine, narr; Chicago Pro Musica / Centaur CRC 3860

These are 20-year-old + recordings, the Neil having been taped in 2001 and the Rapchak in 1999, which are being released for the first time. I can say this with some authority because the Chicago Pro Musica’s Facebook page claims that the CD was “twenty years in the making and aged to perfection.”

Lawrence Rapchak’s Troika is not music reminiscent of that jolly Russian conveyance, but a sad, dolorous piece that is essentially tonal but with several modern harmonic shifts. One of the things I liked about the Chicago Pro Musica was its ability to sound like a full orchestra despite their consisting of only 11 instruments, one of them an accordion(!). In the second movement, “Arrival of the Mummers,” the music becomes livelier and more atonal. (Sorry I can’t tell you what the piece is about, but as usual, Naxos provided no booklet for its reviewers.)

The music is indeed interesting but, like so many modern works nowadays, eventually tends to go off on edgy-abrasive tangents, sound and fury without much in the way of substance. Underneath all the noise and hullabaloo one can indeed hear some interesting development going on, but Rapchak has seen fit to trick it up in a maelstrom of purposeless noise. Sort of like an elegant modern building covered with garish day-glo orange and bright green paint, with toilet paper rolls all round it. (I know, don’t give them any ideas.)

I give the Chicago Pro Musica credit for playing this piece with so much commitment and energy, however, and in some of the ensuing movements there are some quite interesting and elegant moments (I particularly liked “Frozen Kingdom”), but then he immediately returns to the edgy-noisy style that, sadly, is all the rage in modern compositions ( predominantly those written by music college professahs, if you know what I mean) even since Thomas Adès came to prominence back in the 1990s. Honestly, I wish they’d stop trying to copy each other and show some actual individuality in their music. Stop trying to sound like everyone else!

Of course, the really sad thing is that this style of composition is really popular with Millennials who were raised on rock music. You know what I mean: if they grow up on loud, headbanging rock, give ‘em loud, headbanging classical and they’ll eat it up. And as I say, it’s a shame because I think Rapchak has something interesting to say, but he’s so wrapped up in the noise factor that he misses the forest for the trees.

So on to William Neil’s Project Phoenix, set to a text by Diana Syder. This music, too, uses some of the edgy-noisy style so much in vogue now, but at least at the outset is a bit more subdued. He also creates some very interesting timbral blends not found in Rapchak’s music. The text, narrated by Carl Grapentine, is your typical garbled, touchy-feely Millennial nonsense, making no sense but sounding interesting (something about the frequency of the hydrogen atom and closing your eyes and listening to snow falling from a wintry sky…alone, or not…that kind of happy horseshit).

Alas, by the third track of this suite, “Colliding Galaxies I” (Millennials are all into space because they all want to escape this Earth Trip and go colonize Mars or something), Neil is all over the noisy-edgy sound, but he does pull back and provide some really lovely sounds from time to time as well as some very interesting and coherent music.

I really hate to sound so negative about this CD. I was really looking forward to it. but I have to be honest, and the truth of the matter is that neither composer here has 1/3 of the imagination and wit of Laura Kaminsky, whose music I raved about in an earlier review, or the now-forgotten Thomas de Hartmann, whose music is being so eloquently revived on Nimbus Alliance. These are or were composers who developed a unique and individual voice when writing music; it would certainly have been easy for them to follow the crowd, but they didn’t. But here’s Rapchak spewing the aural equivalent of metallic junk over his music and Neil/Syder getting wrapped up in galactic meltdowns and backflashes and a rush of horizons becoming the center of our galaxy, yada yada yada. It’s sad, really, because I think that both composers have talent but are afraid to develop their own unique compositional voice.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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