A special eight-page section focusing on recent recordings from the US and Canada



Deciduousa. LIgNEouS Suiteb. Speaking Treec

aKristin Lee, cGrace Park, cRachel Lee Priday vns

cNathan Schram va cAlice Yoo vc cSam Suggs db

cLaura Weiner hn cThomas Bergeron, cChris Scanlon tpts cStephen Dunn tbn cJerome Stover tuba cIan Sullivan perc aAndy Akiho steel pan bIan Rosenbaum mari bDover Quartet

  • Aki Rhythm Productions (ARP˜R003 • 63’)

As masters of the art of hitting things, percussionists are deeply connected to the sheer physicality of making music. In LIgNEouS, the central work on this trio of tree-inspired compositions, Andy Akiho expands his understanding of that physical dimension to encompass the sonic phenomena of instruments made primarily from the same material. This far-ranging, five-movement suite emphasises the ‘woodiness’ that the marimba shares with the violin, viola and cello. The engrossing performance by Ian Rosenbaum (of Sandbox Percussion) and the Dover Quartet unfolds as an astonishingly varied array of timbral interchanges and attacks – Akiho is especially fond of Bartók pizzicatos, a version of which he implements for the marimba as well – which continually reconfigure the alliance between marimba and string quartet.

Akiho’s boldly original compositions are rooted in his experience as a steel pan performer. No matter how conceptually layered, structurally complex or intricately precise in their rhythmic articulation, his scores tap into a fundamental vibrancy that is reliably invigorating. LIgNEouS shares something of the architectural vigour and immersive aesthetic of his most ambitious work to date, Seven Pillars, a finalist for the 2022 Pulitzer Prize. Lurking within the suite’s currents of vibrant energy, a sense of elegy emerges at moments, alongside mysterious rustlings and sighs, to cast its shadow.

Deciduous gives a chance to hear the composer’s virtuosity on steel pan, presented in dialogue with Kristin Lee’s supple violin-playing. Much as the trees of this category are transformed through varied stages comprising the life cycle, Akiho’s musical thoughts and colours gradually metamorphose to reveal new aspects that remain dormant or hidden until they shoot forth into the foreground. Calling for the largest ensemble of the three works here, Speaking Tree is scored for brass quintet, string quintet and percussion. Akiho recounts how a late-night summer nap beneath a cemetery tree inspired its main ideas, but what especially engages the attention is the piece’s combination of obsessive yet ever-shifting patterns with unpredictable timbral combinations (including a toy piano). Stuart Rome’s mysteriously alluring photography series of the interiors of giant redwoods and sequoias in the Pacific Northwest, Oculus, gives the album its title. Thomas May

Bristow . Fry

‘Classics of American Romanticism’

Bristow Symphony No 4, ‘Arcadian’

Fry Niagara Symphony

The Orchestra Now / Leon Botstein

Bridge (BRIDGE9572 • 55’)

Before Ives, Chadwick, Amy Beach and John Knowles Paine, there were William Henry Fry, of Santa Claus Symphony fame, and his protégé, George Frederick Bristow. Whether or not Fry was the first American to compose a symphony, he did so before Gottschalk, who is sometimes credited as such. Fry produced seven works called symphonies in the 1850s, of which the Niagara (1854) is the fifth. Curiously, Bristow also composed a Niagara Symphony (also his fifth), a long-forgotten choral-and-orchestral work modelled (according to annotator Kyle Gann) on Beethoven’s Ninth, rather than Fry’s fiercely virtuoso tone poem.

Gann may well be correct in hailing Niagara as ‘one of the most avant-garde works of the 19th century’, with its battery of 11 timpani (each tuned to a separate pitch – only F is missing) and snare drums, with massed bass brass deployed to depict the roar and hiss of the great waterfall. Liszt is the model here, though the timpani chords will remind many of Berlioz, composers Fry encountered on his journalistic travels in Europe. Fry’s naturalistic sound world would not be heard so uncompromisingly until Jón Leifs’s tone poems of the 1950s and ’60s. Niagara must sound visceral in impact heard live; listening on headphones will get one close. Botstein’s gripping account with The Orchestra Now is taut and compelling, far more so than Tony Rowe’s polite-by-comparison version in Scotland.

Like Fry, Bristow – a professional violinist – espoused the cause of American music, even resigning his post with the New York Philharmonic in protest at their playing so little of it. Ironically, though, even more than with Fry, Bristow’s compositional models were resolutely European. The Arcadian Symphony (1872), partly assembled from his cantata The Pioneer, is a case in point. German romanticism rules its four movements’ inner workings, with several touches of Berlioz, again, in the scoring. It is a pleasant if prolix work, nicely performed here for the first time complete (a previous outing was crudely cut). The one embarrassment is the Scherzo, a lame and tame evocation of an ‘Indian War Dance and Attack by Indians’, very much of its time. Guy Rickards

Fry – comparative version:

RSNO, Rowe

Naxos 8 559057 (12/00)


‘The Young Chopin’

Piano Concerto No 1, Op 11a. Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante, Op 22.

Variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano’ from

Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’, Op 2

Eric Zuber pf

aIndianapolis Chamber Orchestra / Wilbur Lin Azica (ACD71355 • 72’)