Perigee & Apogee

Review by: David Vernier

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 5

Back in the late 1960s, the toughest thing about being a conservatory composition major wasn’t writing the music, but getting it performed. The smart people wrote for solo piano or cello or some other single instrument that they played themselves. However, necessity dictated another phenomenon: compositions written for all sorts of unusual instrumental assortments–bassoon, snare drum, trumpet; harp and timpani; viola, saxophone, tuba, and singer–because these happened to be the instruments played by your friends who at least would give your work one precious sight-read run-through. Well, apparently New York composer/pianist Beata Moon, who also seems to have an occasional thing for, shall we say, unconventional collaborations, also has some able and willing friends who contribute their substantial talents to the extremely attractive and engaging chamber works found on this fine if somewhat uneven recording.

Most of the best stuff comes at the beginning–from the jazzy percussion rhythms, buzzing violin, fluttering flute, and moody piano of the aptly-titled Safari to the varied atmospheres of Moonpaths, for clarinet, violin, and piano, which reveals Moon’s ever-present fondness for unconventional, irregular rhythms, where the upper number of the time signature is likely to be an 11, a 7, or a 5. Piano Fantasy is a delightful, well, fantasy–a trip that takes an idea farther and farther away from its origin and lets the pianist run free and sometimes wild. Things turn a little less interesting with Antelope Vamp. This piece for electric violin, vibraphone, percussion, and piano begins cute (galloping drum and leaping piano figure) and descends into monotonous repetition of a not-substantial-enough melodic/rhythmic idea.

Like those composers I used to hang out with, Moon also concentrates on her own instrument–five of the disc’s selections are for solo piano. Submerged deftly throws impressionistic (or imagistic) effects around from one end of the keyboard to another, reminiscent of Debussy, especially his La Cathédrale engloutie in its explorations of the uppermost and lowest regions of the piano keyboard. In Transit is a solo piano romp through who-knows-what–the maze of a city’s streets? a train station and journey? Whatever it’s depicting, it shows off some of Moon’s own most delicate and aggressive (and impressive) keyboard technique, and some of her most solidly formed musical ideas. It’s both meditative and dynamically charged and would be a fun piece to hear in a live performance.

That’s true of most of these works–but not the strangely awkward Mary. Nearly 10 minutes long, this piece for soprano, violin, percussion, and piano rests its success on a wordless singer’s ability to give credence to a clumsily written and even more ineptly scored melody that wanders about without form as if the result of a momentary musing rather than a thoughtfully worked out idea. Soprano Joan La Barbara appears unusually tentative, unsure, her phrasing oddly square, her intonation shaky in places, especially in the opening few minutes. Other parts of the program–particularly the pieces that include violin–suffer from unnatural recording balances that give the impression of instruments playing in separate rooms. For example, the violin sounds close and isolated, removed from the pianist in the violin/piano composition Winter Sky. Is this the result of each instrument being miked separately? In all, there is quite a bit to enjoy here performance-wise–and a lot of promising ideas that should encourage this young composer and her colleagues to do more–much more. I for one look forward to their next collaboration. (One packaging suggestion: please print the track listings in the liner note booklet.)



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Recording Details:

Album Title: Perigee & Apogee

BEATA MOON - Works for solo piano; chamber works with violin, flute, clarinet, vibraphone, percussion, & voice

  • Beata Moon (piano)
    Joan La Barbara (soprano)
    others

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