Classical CD Reviews

DMITRI TYMOCZKO, “Crackpot Hymnal” = The Eggman Variations; Typecase Treasury; This Picture Seems to Move; Another Fantastic Voyage – Corigliano Q./ John Blacklow, p./ The Amernet Q./ Illinois Modern Ens./ Daniel Schlosberg, p./ Stephen Taylor – Bridge

Some very exciting new music with an eclectic approach.

Published on June 21, 2013

DMITRI TYMOCZKO, “Crackpot Hymnal” = The Eggman Variations; Typecase Treasury; This Picture Seems to Move; Another Fantastic Voyage – Corigliano Quartet/ John Blacklow, piano/ The Amernet Quartet/ Illinois Modern Ensemble/ Daniel Schlosberg, piano/ Stephen Taylor – Bridge 9383 [3/1/13] (Distr. by Albany) 74:54 ****:

I think Dmitri Tymoczko’s music is one of the more exciting finds I have accidentally made over the past several months. Tymoczko is a music theory and composition professor at Princeton University and writes in a clear, engaging and, frankly, exciting style. One of his theoretical and compositional specialties is what he calls chord geometries.

I am not up on contemporary music theory as much as I want but Chord Geometries, for Tymoczko, represents chords and voice leadings in a variety of 3D geometrical spaces. His website explains that one can enter chords on a MIDI keyboard. The resultant voice leadings between successive chords are represented by continuous paths in the space. It is always interesting to note and learn about the theory and application behind composing but it is more beneficial to just get at the music which I found bracing and fresh.

The Eggman Variations was written for Ursula Oppens and the Pacifica Quartet and is in three movements. From the composer’s description, the first, Pentatonia, is infused with the sounds of Asian music. After a slow and relatively gentle opening, it gradually builds in intensity, reaching its climax at the movement’s end. Its melodic and harmonic materials tend to have five notes; some of these pentatonic scales and chords are borrowed from other cultures, while others are not. The piece ends with a loud low note that rings into the second movement. The second movement, Bent, layers rock clichés on top of one another, while the strings slide from note to note. The movement opens slowly, leads to a hectic middle section, and ends by re-examining the materials of the opening in a gently pulsating rhythmic context. The finale was the composer’s attempt to capture the idea of a “roiling worm of sound.” The overall effect of this work is pulsing, exciting and constantly energetic!

The string quartet Typecase Treasury comes from the composer’s memories of a printer’s typecase, divided into a hundred little compartments meant to contain metal casts of the letters of the alphabet. Tymoczko explains that each of the little compartments had been filled with a different unique mineral or crystal or small fossil. This oddity gave him the idea of a collection of little movements, each complete in itself, but producing a sense of form through their juxtaposition. Most of the seven movements are just about two minutes long, just enough to make a small musical statement. This album takes its weird title from the bizarrely titled third movement. This is a quirky, unique and wholly entertaining work. (To the editors at Bridge: this piece is a string quartet, as is This Picture Seems to Move. On the label, not sure where bassist Kevin Weng-Yew Mayner fits in. On the inside of the booklet notes he is credited as a pianist but this piece uses neither. I found this quite confusing.)

In the string quartet department, This Picture Seems to Move is another strong addition. The composer cites two notions for its structure; from his website. One is his view that contemporary tonal composition had lost some of the richness of early twentieth-century music. The second is the notion that the audience for notated music still largely revolves around the classics of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Tymoczko was striving to create something that “speaks” to the core concert goer but in a fresh, non-stale manner.

The largest work here is Another Fantastic Voyage, cleverly titled after the iconic 1966 science-fiction film. The composer wanted to create a work that seems “classical” but with a playful brash sense about it. (Tymoczko does a lot of work it seems in re-creating his sense of “classical music” with influences from Conlon Nancarrow to John Coltrane). The three movements in Another Fantastic Voyage are picturesquely titled The Mad King, Changeling and Evil, Evil Carnival.  This work is filled with wry humor and a great sense of “music as theater.”

I must say I was very impressed by and caught up in this album. Dmitri Tymoczko is a clever, brilliant and quite entertaining new voice whose music really defies style. I found a lot to like here and I believe if you enjoy tonal, wildly creative and consistently surprising music this could be for you!

—Daniel Coombs




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