But what perhaps is slightly startling is the size of the chamber ensembles called upon to perform the works. They are quite small. No. 2 requires flute, clarinet, violin and cello; No. 3 involves flute, viola and cello; and No. 4 is a piano trio with violin, cello and piano. Once you adjust to the intimate ensembles entailed, you are ready to sit back and experience the works. They are well worth your time.
The composer describes his first chamber symphony as a student work. And so having the second through the forth chamber symphony in one volume brings us up to date with his principal efforts in this medium.
This is modern music in a sort of neo-classical mode, extensions of the Viennese School and perhaps also in line with middle-period Stravinsky, but only as a rough indicator of the trajectory and structure of the works, not fully atonal but not harmonically based in a traditional sense, either. They are filled with invention and do indeed hold together nicely.
These were written on request from ensembles that Anderson knew as colleagues and friends, who were familiar with his music. They were written in 1989, 2001 and 2011, respectively. Each was written around the melodies and harmonies idiomatic for the instruments involved, creating tone rows a la Schoenberg and subjecting them to various processes. Anderson favors row "disordering," or treatment as kinds of scales which are then modified via harmonic and serial means. There is consequentially a wider range of melodic phrase choice which allows the composer to build aesthetic sequential syntaxes that give him maximum flexibility. As a result the music does not sound especially "serialist," but more intuitive-organic, if that makes sense.
What in the end matters for us is the impact the music makes on us as listeners. And it is that which stands out. This is music of vitality and charm, a lyrical quality and long, intrinsically interesting melodic part writing.
The performances are excellent.
Douglas Anderson manages to create works that make a nod to the early modernist period yet sound thoroughly current and original. They are invigorating and yes, coherent in the best ways.
I recommend this volume strongly.