PARNASSUS PLAYS THE CHAMBER MUSIC OF ANDREW IMBRIE
Andrew Imbrie is a composer whose work seems to have attracted far less attention than it is due. He is certainly known amongst composers and his work has garnered many of the awards and honors that generally accompany a successful career. Still, his works seem to be performed far too infrequently and recorded even more rarely. Perhaps in our age it is necessary to be outspoken or to write innovative and experimental works to receive attention. No matter, as Imbrie approaches his seventy fifth birthday he has left a compositional legacy rich in craft and imagination that is outstanding for all of the right reasons: it's technical mastery, it's expressive depth and certainty, and the presence of a unique compositional voice which, though by no means eccentric, is absolutely individual.
Though clearly an individual voice, Imbrie's music does fall within a discernible tradition, one closely associated with his teacher Roger Sessions and such schools as Princeton (where Sessions taught Imbrie as a student), Brandeis, and U.C. Berkeley (where Sessions finished his teaching career; Imbrie followed and joined the faculty upon completing his studies, and continued through retirement in 1991). One would perhaps be pressed nowadays to find more than the remnants of this tradition at these institutions, but the musical values live on in the works of certain composers and certainly Imbrie is foremost amongst them.
Chamber Music of Andrew Imbrie [New World Records 80441-2] is a recent recording by the outstanding New York based ensemble Parnassus under the direction of conductor Anthony Korf. The compositions contained on this disc date from the early 70's and includes music as recent as the 1986 Dream Sequence (premiered by Parnassus in 1987). It is a diverse and impressive collection of works. Perhaps the most impressive work here is the aforementioned Dream Sequence for a mixed ensemble of eight players. Cast in three movements, it is a work rich in both detail and color, full of fantasy and surprise.
Next on the disc comes Imbrie's Five Roethke Songs for soprano and piano: lyrical and passionately expressive in the best tradition of twentieth century song suggestive at times of Schoenberg's Book of the Hanging Gardens but certainly transcending mere imitation. The text for these songs is regrettably not included in the liner notes although they are no doubt readily available at most any library.
The Three Piece Suite is set for harp and piano and is an unusual and playful work. The difficulties of writing chromatic music for the pedal harp seem deftly overcome here by Imbrie, the harmony is at once sumptuous and lucid.
The disc is rounded out by the beautiful Campion Songs for vocal quartet and piano and To a Traveler for clarinet, violin and piano. The latter is the earliest work to appear here and is a gem. It begins broodingly and by turn becomes more active and agitated before the opening material (dramatically transformed) reappears to close.
This is a strong collection of works, beautifully performed and likely to do much for securing the well deserved reputation of Imbrie as one of American music's most important voices.
1995 Bruce Quaglia, all rights reserved.
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