Classical CD Reviews
“Smoke & Mirrors” = REICH: Nagoya Marimbas; Music for Pieces of Wood; HARRISON: Canticle No. 3; WHITACRE: Sleep; TYWONIUK: Happenstance; TAKEMITSU: Rain Tree; RAVEL-TYWONIUK: Sonatine – Smoke & Mirrors Percussion Ens. – Yarlung
Published on July 9, 2013
“Smoke & Mirrors” = REICH: Nagoya Marimbas; Music for Pieces of Wood; HARRISON: Canticle No. 3; WHITACRE: Sleep; TYWONIUK: Happenstance; TAKEMITSU: Rain Tree; RAVEL-TYWONIUK: Sonatine – Smoke & Mirrors Percussion Ensemble – Yarlung Records gold CD 87598 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
Smoke & Mirrors is a five-person percussion group based at The Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles, and this is their debut CD, also available on vinyl. The seven selections are all full-fledged works and each has its own story. They wanted in this album to show the breadth of contemporary classical music written for percussionists, as well as the ensemble’s skills in playing the works. I think it does both quite well.
The opening two Steve Reich works sound like no one else, Reich being the most minimalist of the minimalists. For Music for Pieces of Wood, the five players sit cross legged on the floor around a glowing sphere while holding and banging little smooth wooden sticks of varying lengths. Lou Harrison’s Canticle No. 3 is an important and historic percussion work dating from 1942. It is essentially a concerto for the ocarina and percussion ensemble.
One of the group’s members is Derek Tywoniuk, whose several-movement Happenstance is central in the program and represents its emotional core. He also arranged the lovely version of Ravel’s Sonatine for piano for a trio of percussionists, and plays guitar on the Harrison work. The Sonatine shows an interesting trend toward making transcriptions of more modern works than the Baroque and Romantic periods. Tywoniuk said his work was made easier since Ravel was such a great orchestrator, even in his piano music, and frequently used percussion to excellent effect in his orchestral works.
I don’t know if their gold CDs make much difference sonically, but Yarlung has a purist recording policy involving as few mics as possible and often recording to open reel analog tape instead of digital. The fidelity of this album is as good as one could expect from a standard CD, though I’d prefer to hear it on multichannel SACD or Blu-ray.