LOU HARRISON: Double Concerto For Violin And Cello With Javanese Gamelan performed by Kenneth Goldsmith & Terry King with the Mills College Gamelan Ensemble (TR Records 1910 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines, IA 50309) Harrison is undoubtedly one of the finest and most interesting living American composers, and the Double Concerto ranks with his Pacifiki Rondo, Canticle #3, and a very few other works as his best.
It's a radical and highly successful experiment in the combination of traditional Javanese forms with western ones, precisely the type of thing that Harrison has concerned himself with for the last 15 years. The Mills Gamelan was in fact built by Harrison and his colleague William Colvig (who also plays gambang), and though its is based on Javanese ideas, is in many ways a radical and Americanized departure from tradition as well, most notably in the use of aluminum and a nicely worked out just intonation (based on 7-ratios for the pentatonic slendro, and on the 2-3rd octave of the harmonic series for the pelog).
The Double Concerto is in three movements. The first, marked "Grandly, but moderate," is a lyrical pelog excursion for the two strings, and serves as a warm prelude to the second movement, marked "Stampede," which is nothing short of astounding.
In this movement, the gamelan drops out (except for the kendang, or two-headed drum), and the two strings play a long rapid, mostly unison melody based freely on the octatonic mode. This is Harrison at his finest, drawing on his many years of meditation of the "proper melody," and the listener can hardly believe how long the phrases breathe, soar, and propel themselves past any prior expectations. It is this movement which has been the most talked about, and rightly so.
The third movement, though less dynamic ("Allegro Moderato") provides an elegant slendro cadence to the whole work. Harrison is a composer's composer, and one who has transcended lesser questions of style, device, and intent to produce a music of profound integrity and deep emotional content. --L. Polansky
Typed by Cheryl Vega 6-12-95