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Review: Doubles, the Music of Peter Childs

June 25, 2009

One of the freedoms of music in the Twentieth Century is the ability to create unique forms or re-jigger conventional forms for your own liking.  One of the highlights of Peter Child’s music on the album Doubles is the character studies and how Child is able to fit these miniature ideas into a larger form.


By the numbers: Doubles – the Music of Peter Child (Albany Records) contains four works, two for solo instruments and two for two musicians.  All but one – a violin solo – feature a piano, with one piece being for piano two hands and one for piano and voice.  All of the performances on the album are very clean and moving, coming from the Hirsch-Pinkas Piano Duo, Jane Bryden (soprano), Daniel Stepner (violin), and Elaine Chew and David Deveau (piano).  In fact, the music is technically challenging, but performed extremely gracefully throughout.

Speaking of the music, the four pieces – entitled Duo for Piano, Four Hands, Emily Dickinson Songs, Variations and Doubles.  Duo is an interesting three movement work that covers a lot of sonic range.  The first movement feels like Shostakovich’s rhythm happy moments, while the second reminds me of George Crumb – a moody movement using dampened strings and giving lots of space between gestures to hear the decaying sound.  The third movement is in reality five shorter sections, all with a different nature, spanning from jovial to somber.  Dickinson Songs is a very concise set song cycle, using shorter poems (some even kind of happy!  By Dickinson standards) by the author that allows the text to take center stage.  Variations is a work for solo violin – with ten brief variations that greatly manipulate the source material (A folk song called Egy Szem Szilva).  The final work – Doubles is, depending on how you cut it, a work exploring bitonality with three sections, and a prologue and epilogue, or a prologue, fourteen short pieces, and an epilogue.  The short pieces can be grouped into larger sections based on who the pieces were written for: the first set, written for his daughter, the second and third set for the two pianists who perform the works – Elaine Chew and David Deveau.  Chew’s set, exploring various Eastern folk melodies, is very reminiscent of Bartok in a way, but with some updated styling.  The prologue and epilogue were written for two composers: Messiaen and William Albright.

Generally, what really strikes me about the music is Child’s ability to create different character sketches with each section of his music.  This spans from the Duo to the Songs to the solo works on the album.  Each brief section is like a character in a book or movie – some bit players with a few brief moments in the spotlight, others receiving lots of attention.  Perhaps a novel is more appropriate, because the music has a descriptive quality as opposed to imagery.  Child’s use of repeated notes, most memorably in the Duo and prologue to Doubles, feels declarative.  Sometimes stated with urgency and others with a calming tone, the story evolves naturally on the album Doubles.  From beginning to end, the story is worth hearing.

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