by Seth Tompkins


Photo by Christian Steiner

The May 27 Naxos release, Shattered (Physical CD and iTunes download), features music by American composer Margaret Brouwer that traces her individual response to the global events of the first decade of the 21st century.  Reflecting the tone of the world in the 2000s as seen through the eyes of a globally-conscious American, this disc is complete with the sounds of shock, disillusionment, sadness, uncertainty, introspection, realignment, and self-healing that were experienced by so many in recent years.  In addition to the adroit performances found here, the liner notes lend additional emotional traction to this intense music.

Musically, the contemporary instrumental works on this release tend toward an effective fusion of traditional and extended techniques.  Unlike many such attempts, the music heard here blends the two without the extended materials becoming gimmicky or distracting.  In fact, the nuanced and appropriate inclusion of these elements enhances the music, achieving in an arena where musical success is often elusive.

Shattered Glass (for flute, cello, percussion, and piano) is a distinctly painful piece, a fact which becomes quite clear after a reading of this release’s liner notes.  The ensemble playing here is tight and thoughtful, with each player coming to the fore and fading into the background at just the right moments.  This is 13-minutes of engaging introspection, which, in some ways, is a crystallized expression of the ideas contained in the piece that follows, the quintet for clarinet and strings.

Brouwer’s clarinet quintet is quite complex, using 12-tone techniques and incorporating holy music from both the Christian and Islamic faiths.  Also written as a response to recent world events involving the United States and the Middle East, the quintet musically breaks out and explores many of the individual issues that make up the chaotic and seemingly grim world in which it was written.

The song Whom do you call angel now? is a more personal reflection on the world events that inspired the prior pieces, specifically the events of September 11, 2001.  The text by David Adams is set simply, but with a healthy measure of Romantic-era touches that place this piece squarely in the art-song tradition.

Lonely Lake, for the Blue Streak Ensemble, is a depiction of a single day at the remote cabin where the composer sensed hope for the future in the face of the troubling events that dominate the tone of much of this release.  The imitation loon calls that conclude this piece are particularly engrossing, inviting meditation with the aloof realness of the woods.

Certainly, there is music from the past that bears repeating and reinterpreting.  The two arrangements at the end of this collection are examples of such music.  Written for the Blue Streak Ensemble while at the cabin on Lonely Lake, Brouwer’s arrangements of Debussy’s Claire de Lune and Bach’s Two-Part Invention in F are fresh reworkings of these two lovely classics.  In addition to giving listeners new things for which to listen in the context of familiar favorites, they provide the simple pleasure that is sometimes critical in times that strain individuals’ understanding of the world around them.

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