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Lou Harrison: Drums Along the Pacific

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People uncertain about the appeal of an album of percussion music should know two things up front. First, the three longest pieces on Drums Along the Pacific feature a non-percussion solo instrument. Second, Lou Harrison's interest in percussion music was split equally between rhythm and melody. In percussion-only pieces like "Simfony #13" and "Song of Quetzalcóatl" -- both performed here by the William Winant Percussion Group -- he uses sets of instruments with different pitches (glasses, woodblocks, cowbells, tom-toms, etc.), allowing him to state a melody and develop variations on it, even though pitches are not rigorously respected from one set of instruments to the other. The latter piece is particularly effective. The album begins with its highlight, "Threnody for Carlos Chavez." Written for viola (Geraldine Walther) and gamelan ensemble (led by William Winant), it is irresistibly moving. The composer has kept the viola's lament elegant, almost classical even though it gets highly emotional. "Music for Violin With Various Instruments" doesn't profit from such strong melodic material, but its unheard-of combination of violin (by David Abel), four mbiras (African thumb pianos), psaltery, and reed organ makes it stand out. On the other hand, the "Canticle #3," for percussion group (conducted by Dennis Russell Davies), ocarina (Leta Miller), and guitar (Robert Strizich) remains somewhat rigid, almost academic. Drums Along the Pacific is not a drum bash. On the contrary, most pieces show a high level of restraint and ceremony that goes against preconceptions about percussion music. ~ François Couture

Featuring: Robert Strizich (guitar); Jennifer Cass (psaltery); David Abel (violin); Geraldine Walther (viola); Leta E. Miller, Larry Miller (flute, ocarina); Scott Evans (pipe, wood block); Julie Steinberg (reed organ); Todd Manley (gamelan, bass drum, cowbells, rattle, triangle, temple bell, gong); William Winant (gamelan, claves, cymbals, maracas, sistrum, temple blocks, triangle, wood block, percussion, bells, flexatone); David Johnson (gamelan, cowbells, wood block, bells); Joel Davel, Gordon Smith, Carla Fabrizio (gamelan); David Rosenthal (snare drum, brake drums, guiro, tamtam, tom tom, triangle, gong, sound effects); Daniel Kennedy (box, cowbells, metallophone, sistrum, tom tom, bells)

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