• Inner Sky
: Review

The entire first page of the booklet of the present CD is given over to an explanation as to why there are two discs with overlapping (albeit not completely identical) content included in this new Albany release. It turns out that one of them is a Blu-Ray disc with 90 minutes of music (no video) devoted to multi-channel mixing in high resolution. The pieces in this set that employ electronics are recorded in eight channels, although presumably you have only two speakers on which to listen to them. The Blu-Ray version is intended to give the auditor a "greatly enhanced auditory window into a concert experience." Since I have a Blu-Ray player, what did I make of the Blu-Ray recordings? Read on!

The astute reader will note the mention of seven flutists by name in the above head note. Even though only two of the works on the present CD feature flute, composer David Felder clearly has an affinity for the instrument. And just who is David Felder, you ask? Felder serves as Birge-Cary Chair in Composition at SUNY, Buffalo, and has been artistic director of the June in Buffalo Festival from 1985 to present. He also founded, and serves as artistic director of the Slee Sinfonietta, and both groups are heard on the present disc. His music has been widely performed at festivals around the globe, and he has received numerous grants and commissions from the New York State Council, New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Guggenheim, and Koussevitzky foundations, among others. With all that, I feel a bit guilty for never having made his acquaintance before now.

Assuming that a somewhat greater number of readers have compact disc players than Blu-Ray, I'll begin with a discussion of the contents of the CD, which opens with Tweener, a work for chamber orchestra with percussion solo. The percussion part is confined largely to the mallet instruments, the marimba and the KAT electronic mallet instrument (the latter a new one to me, to be sure). The work has its very busy and dissonant sections—imagine Varese on steroids—as well as sections of quiet repose, more akin to Feldman. Colors abound through imaginative scoring, and much of the work's unique sound comes through the use of instruments in their lower registers. Rather than consistently use the percussion in an overt soloistic fashion, Felder often integrates it into the texture, adding colors and textures to the effect of the ensemble. This is to take nothing away from the virtuosity of the percussion writing, or the considerable skill that percussionist Tom Kolor brings to it.

Rocket Summer is a work for solo piano, to date Felder's only contribution to the solo piano repertory, and is the earliest work included on the recital. The title is drawn from Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, and the work suggests whirling rotations, symbolic of a rocket's motor, and its blast-off that turns an Ohio winter into summer. Other parts of the piece apparently depict blizzard conditions and ice. Felder proves in this work that he can write colorful music even on the essentially mono-chromatic piano.

Incendio utilizes an ensemble of ten brass instruments. Rhythmically and harmonically very free, the interval of the major second plays a prominent role in certain parts of the work, but the composer zeros in on other intervals and pitches from time to time. While the work is not tonal, it doesn't sound serial at all. A close companion to Incendio is the following brass work, Canzone XXXI, scored for two trumpets, horn, trombone, and bass trombone, the latter replacing the more common tuba in the brass quintet. The effect of the piece is similar to its disc-mate, except that the level of virtuosity is ramped up a couple of notches. The work was written for the American Brass Quintet, but the players who present it here have every ounce of skill required to bring the piece off effectively.

The CD closes with Requiescat, a work for guitar solo and chamber ensemble, with electronics. Characteristic of Felder's writing, this piece is full of unusual sonorities, colors, and very expressive dissonance. It is remarkable how beautiful the extreme dissonances contained in this work sound in Felder's hands.

To compare the sonics of the CD with the Blu-Ray disc, I inserted each disc into its respective player, and synchronized them at the beginning of Tweener. It was very easy, then, simply to toggle the selector on my pre-amp between the recordings. Doing so, I'd like to say that I could hear substantial differences between the two formats, but I did not. Any differences were very subtle: if present at all, they were beyond the ability of my 63-year-old ears to discern. Possibly younger listeners would hear a difference. All of the works contained on the CD are also found on the Blu-Ray disc, but it contains other works as well. The first of these is Rare Air: Blews for a length of garden hose off-stage and electronics. The hose part consists mainly of wailing on the part of the soloist, leading me to wonder how those sounds were produced on the clarinet (the attribution on the tray card), but at under two minutes, the piece does not wear out its welcome. The similarly-titled Rare Air: Boxmunsdottir actually utilizes clarinet and bass clarinet, as listed, along with electronics, but the tray card lists piano on both of these works, of which I heard not a note. It is nonetheless full of interesting effects and overlaying of the two solo instruments. There are some piano sounds in the later-heard Rare Air: Boxmunsson but nary a word in the notes explaining the use of the Icelandic names.

Inner Sky is scored for solo flutes (apparently one player) and an orchestra of percussion, piano, strings and computer-generated sounds that mimic flutes and (especially) piccolos. It is a highly-dissonant exercise, with lots of notes in the extreme treble (those with sensitive ears will not be able to play this piece at a very high volume), and palpably exciting in its effect. It is, at 16 minutes, also the longest work in this anthology, and probably my favorite work herein given that it sounds so utterly original to me.

Finally, Dionysiacs is the work that utilizes all those flutists listed in the headnote. The opening of this work was a bit much in the treble department for my ears, but it wasn't long before lower pitches began to predominate. This is a most imaginative work--all those flutes make for a uniquely eerie sound. The orchestra doesn't make its appearance until well into the piece.

While not music for the masses (I could only wish that the "masses" would appreciate music like this, or even classical music in general), Felder's work will hold considerable appeal to those for whom the music of such composers as Ives, Varèse, Crumb, and other forward-looking composers of our era has appeal. His is a most individual compositional voice. Accordingly, strongly recommended.