Rubio String Quartet; Jessica Marsten, soprano; Joseph Kubera, piano, celeste; Andrew Bolotowsky, flute, piccolo; André Tarantiles, harp; Darren Campbell, string bass; David Rozenblatt, percussion; Gary M. Schneider, conductor
Beth Anderson (b 1950) writes chamber music of great beauty, generally simple tonality, and luminous textures. She's adopted a deceptively unmilitant motto－"To make something beautiful is revolutionary"－and describes herself oxymoronically on her web page as a "neo-romantic, avant-garde composer," words that wouldn't fit together for any other composer.
Her chamber music betrays its twentieth-century roots in its pervasive use of collage. Her preferred form, and one she invented herself, is the swale: a term for a meadow or marsh in which a lot of plants grow together, and by extension a musical piece in which diverse musical ideas and even styles grow side by side. In Anderson's swales, then－five of which are on this recording－different themes, styles, moods pop up and succeed each other with cheery disregard for linear development, though, as in any field, the same plants recur amongst each other, giving the disparate collections a family unity.
Thus she has evolved a music that seems texturally and tonally conventional measure-by-measure, but whose succession of styles－modal, nineteenth-century, Bartókian, bluegrass－chart out radical postmodern territory indeed. Yet, unlike the collage techniques of Cage, Stockhausen, and John Zorn, Anderson is never abrupt or mechanical, but smooths her swale elements together in an intuitively convincing stream of consciousness.
Collage is not Anderson's only mode, as is made clear by The Angel (1988), a more linear solo-voice cantata. The succession of idioms－hymnlike passages, a fugue, a march－that might occur in one of Anderson's swales here follow according to the changing mood of the text. Though pretty, the piece is not afraid of stark harmonic contrasts, and plunges through some dark chromaticism before the sweet C major of the final verses. Yet Anderson never indulges in emotionalism or pathos; one might call The Angel, in this respect, a feminine counterpart to Erik Satie's Socrate, another calm meditation on death.
The deceptively simple Piano Concerto, a concerto for an orchestra of six players plus soloist, is one of the most joyous of Anderson's works. There is something unique about the naturalness of Anderson's music, its free stream-of-consciousness, its convincing ability to wander through styles to fit the mood of the moment, yet without losing a feeling of unity. It fits perfectly Mozart's idea of an "artless art" in which the composer's efforts became invisible.