Search This Blog

Friday, June 10, 2016

Paula Diehl, Separation, Works for Large and Small Ensemble From 1982-2015

Paula Diehl? A living modern composer whose music has a signature originality. Her two-CD offering Separation: Works for Large and Small Ensemble From 1982-2015 (Navona NV 6044) affords us a bird's-eye retrospective of her orchestral and chamber music thus far. Six orchestral works comprise the first disk; seven chamber works are programmed on the second. All share a stylistic unity that is what Ms. Diehl is all about.

The music tends to follow a sort of periodicity that in its most simple expression comes to us in the form of long-note-long-note-rest, repeat and develop. That basic rhythmic model with many evolved variants and permutations are a key part of her musical vocabulary. As I listened I mulled over where I might have heard similar phrase structures before, and eventually recalled that some of Stravinsky's neo-classical works had segments that operated with a similar sort of musical Morse code now and again.

What is key though is that Paula Diehl makes of this way of phrasing a major organizing principle and takes its simple sound-sound-silence very far in original and ever-varying ways. It may indeed have something to do with the CD set's title Separation, though the liners tell us that it was the name she gave to the composition system she devised while a student at American University in 1978. Nonetheless the key periodic short silences do indeed serve to separate formally and concretely phrase-from-phrase.

This is an interesting question, but ultimately what matters is the music, which has considerable modernist thrust and ingenuity. Every work presented in the set has its own integrity and stands out as one experiences it a few times. The orchestral disk affords us four strictly orchestral works and two for chorus and organ. The chamber disk gives us two chamber orchestra works, two for baritone and piano, a quartet, a solo piano work and a duet for piano and organ.

The various artists involved come through with performances that do full justice to the musical complexities involved. And in the end you feel that you understand and appreciate just how vibrantly singular this music is--or at least I did.

Paula Diehl must be heard and listened to deeply to be appreciated. She is, as it turns out, an important modern voice whose clearly articulated and beautifully inventive ways mark her as a major contributor to new music, as indeed very much new in her approach and major in the sublimity and creative expression of her vision. Like Morton Feldman she has her own independent personality that both fits in with the stream of modernism of today yet remains apart and stirringly individual.

The set brings me a great deal of pleasure. I think it will do the same for anyone who appreciates the modern world of musical possibilities. I highly recommend it to you.