Patricia Spencer and Carol Wincenc, flute; Laura Flax, clarinet; Chris Gekker, trumpet; Jonathan Haas and Deborah Moore, percussion; Joan Tower, piano; André Emilianoff, cello; Sharon Isbin, guitar; Mike Powell, trombone; Stephen Gosling, piano; Muir String Quartet; Double Edge
Clarity of expression has characterized the music of Joan Tower (b 1938) from the beginning. Whether written for orchestral forces, chamber ensembles, or solo instruments, her music speaks energetically and directly to the listener. Imagery of light and movement come easily to mind with Tower's compositions, imagery that she encourages not only through the music, but also through her titles and her own comments about the music. Her images grow from one into another, sometimes with subtle, seamless transitions, sometimes abruptly, with verve.
In this collection, Tower's trademark qualities abound: rhythmic energy, colorful instrumentation, and fresh sonic textures, plus, in the newer works, an increasing lyricism and broadening emotional range.
According to Tower, the title Night Fields (1984) “was conceived after the work was completed and provides an image or setting for some of the moods of the piece: a cold, windy night in a wheat field lit up by a bright, full moon, where waves of fast-moving colors ripple over the fields, occasionally settling on a patch of gold."
Snow Dreams (1983) is a study in balancing the two disparate qualities and technical possibilities of the flute and guitar. The composer has brought them together cohesively, while celebrating their unique voices.
The central image of Black Topaz (1976) derives from one of Tower's own drawings. The virtuosic piano, the ebony gem of the title, is balanced by the other instrumental timbres as the work explores changing sound colors. Très lent (In memoriam Olivier Messiaen) (1994) is a tribute to his Quartet for the End of Time and its infinitely slow movements for cello, then violin.
The final piece on this disc, Stepping Stones: A Ballet (1993), is a two-piano reduction of a score originally written for a full orchestra. Rushing upward scales sparkle under the pianists' fingers, the lush sounds of openly lyrical passages seem perfectly suited to the voluptuousness of two pianos, and the fanfares of the last movement celebrate the dancers' final unity with robust and percussive piano scoring.