Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Composer Emily Doolittle is revealed once again as a distinctive voice, a master of colour, light and texture on a new release of chamber works from Composers Concordance Records featuring the Seattle Chamber Players and friends

Composer Emily Doolittle http://emilydoolittle.com was born in Nova Scotia in 1972 and educated at Dalhousie University, the Koninklijk Conservatorium in the Hague, Indiana University and Princeton University. From 2008-2015 she lived in Seattle, where she was an Associate Professor of Composition and Theory at Cornish College of the Arts. She now lives in Glasgow, UK.

I was fortunate to hear her orchestral work green/blue that opened the English Symphony Orchestra’s concert at Hereford’s Shirehall (UK) on Sunday 7th February 2016.  http://theclassicalreviewer.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/works-by-contemporary-composer-emily.html .

Now from Composers Concordance Records www.composersconcordance.com comes a collection of chamber music by Emily Doolittle entitled all spring performed by the Seattle Chamber Players www.seattlechamberplayers.org and friends directed by Julia Tai www.juliatai.com

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Four Pieces About Water (2000) was commissioned by the Nova Scotia Arts Council for Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal’s Generation 2000 project. Performed here by Paul Taub (flute), Laura DeLuca (clarinet), Seth Krimsky (bassoon), Mark Robbins (horn), Sara Mayo (trombone), Oksana Ezhokina (piano), Mikhail Shmidt (violin), Rajan Krishnaswami (cello) and Joe Kaufman (bass) it is in four movements.

Running Water rises suddenly before very soon a little piano motif is heard, enlarged upon by the other players and bringing an ever changing fast moving fluidity as the theme scurries around. There are some fine dissonances and textures before we move into Salt Water that opens ponderously before slowly unfolding through some lovely atmospheric passages. Little flute arabesques appear around which individual instruments bring a distinctive texture and later there is a more extended solo flute passage before the music finds more of a flow with some fine textures displayed

A little violin motif appears hesitantly in the opening of Frozen Water, quite a sharp, cold motif to which flute joins as a frozen image is wonderfully evoked. The other players join as the movement slowly finds its way ahead, often with more strident, sharp sounds before quietly ending. Rain Water opens with a little rhythmic percussion motif that is developed by woodwind, then by the other members of the Seattle Chamber Players as the raindrops increase. They find an attractive rhythmic theme that is shared around in this most evocative piece.

Commissioned by the Canada Council for the Arts for Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and later adapted for oboe and strings, falling still (2001/2009) is performed here by Brent Hages (oboe), Mikhail Shmidt (violin), Mara Gearman (viola) and David Sabee (cello). Inspired by the sound of a European blackbird singing against the sound of early morning rain it opens with a series of long held notes from the oboe to which the strings join as a melody emerges, the oboe soon taking the melody over the strings. This is an exquisite melody made all the more attractive by the lovely textures created by this composer. The strings eventually weave more fine harmonies, growing subtly in passion before a momentary pause that allows the music to capture its earlier tranquillity.

all spring (2004) was commissioned by the Canada Council for the Arts for the Motion Ensemble and sets poems by Rae Crossman. In five movements it is performed here by Maria Mannisto (soprano) http://mariamannisto.com , Paul Taub (flute), Laura DeLuca (clarinet), Matthew Kocmieroski (percussion), Mikhail Shmidt (violin) and Joe Kaufman (bass).

The first movement, five o'clock opens quietly and slowly with little taps from the woodblock, the ensemble bringing a very distinctive harmony through which soprano, Maria Mannisto appears, the text slowly revealed as the soloist rises high, over subtle percussion and instrumental sounds.  Percussion opens all spring before the woodwind tentatively enter. The soprano enters with ‘…all spring, I have been watching, a pair of geese, in the flooded hollow…’ over percussion and a tentative instrumental line creating bird like phrases. The music rises in passion as soprano Maria Mannisto brings some wonderfully high pure notes before finding a quiet solace at ‘…say it is not too late...to weave a nest…even from the strands of sorrow.’

have you brings a sudden outburst from the ensemble before quiet percussion taps are heard. The soprano enters against the percussion through moments of more passion. There are dynamic rhythmic percussion taps that fade before the soprano re-joins on ‘…and you, the one, who had snapped, the fragile bones…’  again finding sudden increases in passion before we are lead into ruffed grouse where percussion again open bringing hushed sounds to which the flute and soprano add fluttering textures. Slowly the text emerges though still retaining fine vocal textures over the ensemble’s own textures before rising in passion to end.

The concluding movement, just when brings strange little string motifs with percussion joining to add texture. The ensemble expands on the hesitant motif before the soprano joins to lead forward in an overarching vocal line. The ensemble becomes more frantic but falls quieter for the soprano to re-enter. There are some lovely little flourishes from the flute and clarinet as well as the violin and later some fine pure upper notes from Maria Mannisto to conclude.

Emily Doolittle wrote col (2002/2014) while in residence at Blue Mountain Center, New York State. The title refers to a pass or depression in a mountain range. Performed here by  Mikhail Shmidt (violin) and Matthew Kocmieroski (marimba) it opens with pizzicato violin and subtle little marimba notes, the two slowly developing a theme that reveals a rhythmic pulse. Here Doolittle shows her fine ear for colour as she subtly combines these two disparate instruments to find a common sonority These two players reveal the gentle and subtle rises and falls, the violin eventually bringing a bowed theme, acquiring a rather folksy style, wonderfully and freely played by Mikhail Shmidt. Later the violin weaves a fine solo melody, the marimba joining to lead to the gentle, simple textures of the coda.

Another commission by the Canada Council for the Arts, this time for Ensemble Meduse, Why the parrot repeats human words is based on a Thai folktale. Laura DeLuca (clarinet), Mara Gearman (viola) and Matthew Kocmieroski (percussion) are the performers here with the narrator’s role taken by soprano, Maria Mannisto. The clarinet and viola with delicate percussion accompaniment bring a really unusual and distinctive colour and texture as this piece opens. The text is each time followed by the instruments ensemble in a theme that evokes the words though always with a melodic pattern. Often the narrator and instruments combine with this narrator bringing a fine animation to her role. The natural sounds, rhythms and textures are wonderfully evoked with an instrumental passage ending this lovely little tale.  

The booklet does not provide a text for the English narration but Maria Mannisto provides clear diction. 
Emily Doolittle is revealed once again as a distinctive voice, a master of colour, light and texture. The performances are excellent and the artists receive a first rate recording. There are useful notes and full sung texts in English.


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