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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Augusta Read Thomas, Ritual Incantations

The advent of women among New Music composers has obtained a steady-state condition. There was a time when Ruth Crawford Seeger, Amy Beach and perhaps a handful of others were all we were aware of. That has changed. There are many now. And there is much good to hear, thankfully.

We have another worthy one in Augusta Read Thomas. Other than an anthology that includes Thomas (by Alarm Will Sound in a May 19, 2016 review here) I have not discussed her music much and have not experienced it a great deal until the present new release Ritual Incantations (Nimbus Alliance 6355). I notice from the CD booklet that there are at least six other Thomas CDs on the Nimbus label.

The current release provides us with a varied program of compositions, from solo piano to choral to symphonic. Five of eight works are in world premier recordings. Throughout one gets the impression of a lively and inventive musical mind at work, a modern contemporary composer that seeks a sort of middle ground between traditional tonal and high modern possibilities.

That the music is unself-consciously lucid and unpretentiously expressive is perhaps the first thing I noticed on listening.

There are too many varied compositions to comment upon in detail in this space. Suffice to say there is a memorability and worthiness to them all. The title work for cello and orchestra is the most ambitious, but there is much to be appreciated in the entire program, especially in "Chi" for string quartet, "Klee Musings" for piano trio, "Dappled Things" for male glee club, and "Eurythmy Etudes" for solo piano. The 1999 through 2017 provence of the compositions allows you to follow Ms. Thomas' development over time. The performances are uniformly good.

All in all Ritual Incantations gives us a varied and rewarding glimpse of a composer of true merit. I do recommend you hear this one.

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