Chamber Music by Lawrence Dillon:
1. Furies and Muses (1997)
2. Devotion (1996)
3. Jests and Tenderness (1998)
Jeff Keesecker, bassoon, & the Cassatt String Quartet (1); Ransom Wilson, flute, with members of the Borromeo String Quartet (2); & The Mendelssohn String Quartet (3). Albany Records Troy 513, ©2002, 65:01, $16.95. http://www.albanyrecords.com/
In 1985, New Jersey native Lawrence Dillon ( http://www.lawrencedillon.com/ ) became the youngest composer to earn a doctorate at The Juilliard School. Notes with this collection of his works reveal that "he studied privately with Vincent Persichetti, and in classes with Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter, David Diamond and Roger Sessions. Upon graduation he was appointed to the Juilliard faculty."
This CD of delightful and engaging music has multiple connections with North Carolina. Since accepting the position of Assistant Dean at the North Carolina School of the Arts in 1990, he has become Composer in Residence and the conductor of SACE, the NCSA Contemporary Ensemble. The Cassatt String Quartet was in residence at East Carolina University a few seasons ago. The Mendelssohn String Quartet, which has made several Triangle appearances, continues as members of the Artist Faculty of the NCSA, where they perform a series of concerts annually. Founded by Durham's own virtuoso violinist Nicholas Kitchen and his wife, cellist Yeesun Kim, the Borromeo String Quartet is well-known statewide. The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, the Winston-Salem Arts Council, the NCSA, and anonymous donors funded this recording.
Even if I had not found the music to be inventive and skillfully scored, I would have been tempted to return to the recording because of the excellence of the engineering. The full range and colors of all the instruments have been ideally captured. Balances between woodwind solos and strings are fine. The composer's notes about the music are models of their kind, well written and very much to the point.
The composer describes "Furies and Muses" as "a musical juxtaposition of violence and elegance: throughout the piece, aggressive gestures are suddenly transformed into phrases of great delicacy, and vice versa." The four movements use traditional forms in nontraditional ways. The full range of the bassoon is exploited in this fascinating and imaginative score; at one point it almost sounds like a saxophone.
Dillon uses the "Medieval clausula form (a type of variation in which the melody is intertwined with fragments of itself) in the single movement... 'Devotion.'" Flutist Ransom Wilson states the theme with "three increasingly fervent variations" while the "three string instruments, playing the intertwining fragments, are muted and bowing over the fingerboards throughout." Joining Wilson are violinist Kitchen, violist Mai Motobuchi, and cellist Kim. This is a lovely and haunting work.
Dillon describes "Jests and Tenderness" as "a meditation on the Classical scherzo." The form was used often by Classical and Romantic composers to "play jokes on the listener, on other composers or even on the performers." To bolster his purpose, the composer draws upon the anthropological and psychological roots of humor and the multilevel and contradictory functions it can have. The first movement satirizes both "the abrasive monotony of contemporary popular music" and the "elitist pretensions of the current classical music scene." The second movement, a typical scherzo, has "edgy harmonics and odd phrasing." A brief vigorous fugue leads directly into the extensive final nocturne.
None of the music on this disc is dry or academic; the CD repays frequent listening. These works ought to be given repeated live performances. It would be wonderful if all new music received such meticulous care as these three quartets and the soloists invest in Dillon's scores. It would be wonderful, too, if all new music were as worthy of such attention as these three compositions!
William Thomas Walker