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Friday, October 19, 2012

Harvey Sollberger, Spillville & Gilead, Red Cedar Chamber Music

Harvey Sollberger came out of Columbia with an MA in the heady days when New Music was as au courant as the space race. He co-founded the acclaimed Group for Contemporary Music with Charles Wuorinen and recorded prolifically with them. He went on to direct the La Jolla Symphony for many years. His time spent as conductor, flautist and teacher left a little room for work as a composer. His earlier works came out on CRI and I remember liking them, but I have not heard anything of his recent music. That is until now.

There's a new release by Red Cedar Chamber Music (58016) of two of Sollberger's recent works that's getting my attention. Spillville & Gilead present two somewhat lengthy chamber compositions that celebrate his love of the Midwest, "Spillville" (2006) for flute, viola and guitar, and "Perhaps Gilead" (2010) for flute, guitar, and string quartet.

The two pieces relate well to each other, both in subject matter and sonance, and are well played by the Red Cedar musicians. Both present a kind of Americana pastoralism, with reworkings of folk dance and traditional fiddle tune sounds coming into the musical picture at important points.

It's music that addresses elemental intervalic relationships, modalities and homespun melodic material in very effective ways. This Sollberger manages to do without sounding like Aaron Copland, which of course is who one first thinks of with music of this sort.

More modern tonalities weave their way in and out of "Perhaps Gilead," less so for "Spillville," but most importantly all elements come together in these compositions as an organic whole, in ways that leave a distinct impression.

This is music of high local color with a singleness of intent that shows originality and great evocative power. The two works stand together as very agreeable examples of a thoroughgoing post-modernism that Charles Ives would certainly recognize and appreciate. I think you will too.

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