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Reviewed by:
  • Left to His Own Devices
  • Laurie Radford
Eric Chasalow: Left to His Own Devices. Compact disc, New World Records 80601-2, 2003; available from New World Records, 75 Broad Street, Suite 2400, New York, New York 10004, USA; telephone (+1) 212-290-1680; fax (+1) 212-290-1685; electronic mail; Web

As with many composers of the last quarter-century of the 20th century, adeptly availing themselves of a range of performance and technological resources, from standard solo instrument, chamber ensembles, and orchestra, to instrument and electroacoustic pairings and purely electroacoustic essays, Eric Chasalow has portioned out his energies and interests to numerous genres of contemporary concert music projects. This diversity of resources employed is paralleled in the eclectic aesthetic and stylistic language(s) that Mr. Chasalow draws upon and pursues: acerbic instrumental gestures enticingly combined with vital rhythmic and formal clarity; quotation and self-reference; forays into sonic anthropology; reverent gestures towards the instrumental canon; and aggressive forays into the unknowns of electroacoustic construction. This New World Records offering from 2003 offers a generous collection of nine works from his catalogue spanning the years 1994 to 2001 and includes two acoustic chamber music works, four works combining instruments and tape, and three electroacoustic works.

The two purely instrumental works included on the disc are Yes, I Really Did (1998) for violin, cello, and piano, and the three-movement In the Work (1993–1994) featuring the ensemble Phantom Arts. Yes, I Really Did employs the piano trio combination in an expressive and flowing manner with several lyrical interludes momentarily halting the pulse-driven opening thematic material that predominates, until a process of fragmentation brings the work to a wistful conclusion. In the Work employs a larger ensemble of six instruments (flute, clarinet, violin, violoncello, piano, percussion). The first of the three movements highlights each of the instruments as soloists in turn in an elastic music that wavers between several states, rushing forward, then abruptly halting and lingering, only to veer off in another direction moments later. The second movement is a brief, jazzy episode with snare-cymbal volleys ricocheting off the walking cello under intertwining violin-clarinet-flute lines, and the third movement offers a more expansive and dramatic proposition that doesn't quite provide the "finale" energy and conclusion that one is led to (perhaps conventionally) expect.

Mr. Chasalow is especially renowned for his numerous works for instruments and electroacoustic resources. One of the earliest works on the disc, the toe-tapping Out of Joint (1994) for trumpet and tape, tips its hat to the composer's jazz side with spiraling trumpet licks and leaps enwreathed by noodling synth lines and faux trap-set outbursts. The Italian clarinet virtuoso and champion of new music, Guido Arbonelli, gives a stellar performance of a spritely work, In a Manner of Speaking (2000), for bass clarinet and tape. The close timbral and temporal conjunction between clarinet and tape materials, from long undulating sustained notes to rapid stabs and runs, results in a coherent and engaging work that warrants a longer exploration than its less than five minute duration.

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A larger ensemble combined with a pre-recorded electroacoustic component, the wittily entitled Suspicious Motives (1999), is performed here by the four members of the Auros Group for New Music on flute, clarinet, violin, and violoncello and purportedly incorporates materials from previous works by the composer as well as nods in the direction of Milton Babbitt and others. This is one of the highlights of the disc with lean and carefully balanced use of the ensemble and equally successful combinations of electroacoustic (often transformed vocal) materials that in effect act as a fifth instrument in the seamless integration of the work.

Mr. Chasalow's five Dream Songs (2001), on texts by John Berryman, combine a performance by the Boston Modern Orchestra with tape. The tenor voice in these songs is not [End Page 87] presented live but rather by means of the tape along with various transformations of the voice and other colorful interjections that play with the timbral space between the orchestra and the horizons of the electroacoustic...


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