CHILD: Jubal; Adirondack Voices; Shanti.
Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose.
BMOP Sound 1057 TT: 65:04.

Not only over my head, but beyond my sight. Born and raised in Britain, Peter Child has long resided in the United States, mostly in the Boston area. He studied with Arthur Berger, Jacob Druckman, and Seymour Shifrin, not to say that he sounds like any of them. Whatever influence they have had has been a more abstract one, I would say confined to matters of craft. A student year abroad to South India, however, made a stronger impression on his music. Nevertheless, he doesn't engage in oriental pastiche but at the deep level writes based on the structural principles of Karnatic music. If I hadn't read it, I wouldn't have known.

His music, very well written indeed, contains startling, beautiful sounds, great rhythmic invention, and a strong sense of argument. It's not especially dissonant. Fans of Walter Piston or Leonard Bernstein would not be put off. However, it's the kind of music I hate reviewing the most, since I make absolutely no emotional connection to it or take interest in it. I can find nothing especially insightful to say about it -- the curse of the well-written piece. Your mileage, of course, may vary. Incidentally, I feel this way about much of Mozart.

The concert overture Jubal refers to the Biblical inventor of the harp and pipe, "the father of musicians." Take the title with a grain of salt. Very little here, if anything, specifically designates any of these things. I consider the score an overture, but Child regards it as a cross between a one-movement symphony in four major sections and a concerto for orchestra. To me, "symphony" seems a stretch, but "concerto" points to the virtuosity required from orchestra. The major sections run fast-slow-fast-slow. The first movement is a headlong rush of about a minute-and-a-half of "barbaric yawps" over a pulsating motor, the second a sprightly, ambling intermezzo, the third a scherzo that begins fugally, and the fourth -- the most remarkable section of the work -- a slow dismantling of major ideas in the score. The ideas seem forged from the same harmonic sound-world -- tonal, but neither major nor minor, and within some exotic mode. Perhaps this may be based on an Indian scale.

Adirondack Voices, commissioned by the Albany Symphony Orchestra, uses three folk-tunes from upstate New State (one tune per movement) and seems the least remarkable, despite its attractiveness, of the pieces on the program. Vaughan Williams, Holst, Grainger, and Delius arrangements project their strong artistic profiles. Child produces a score which, in spite of some neat touches (I think especially of the introduction to the second movement), seems fairly anonymous -- again, well-written but of transient in my memory.

Shanti steps forward as the major work on the program, both in length and ambition. Child conceives it around basic ragas and aesthetic principles of South Indian music, particularly the general emotional content of these ragas. I know so little about his models, I'm barely familiar with the terms, so don't expect any deep insights from me. I can describe only how the music affects me. I don't particularly "get" the emotions designated in the score, but that's true of me and just about every "aesthetics of emotion" or even synesthesia theory I've encountered. I'm hopelessly stuck in the Western major-minor, happy-sad dichotomy. Again, the craft comes first to notice. The musical variety and the freshness of sound and expression also impress. Each of its eight short sections engages in some sort of rhetorical drama. Yet once again, I fail to connect to it. I could describe each section in detail, but it's better if you hear it for yourself.

Certainly Child has nothing to complain about from Gil Rose and the orchestra. They play wonderfully, with commitment to these scores, and the sound is superb. In general, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project has produced a very distinguished series indeed, with care not only for the choosing and performance of scores, but for such aspects as graphic design of the jackets and the well-written program notes. This is one of the few discs they've come up with that completely passed me by.

(November 2019)