It is no surprise that following the death of Lou Harrison, one of the great champions of modern music on the guitar should provide a retrospective recording of Harrison's idiosyncratic contributions to the repertoire. Housed in New Albion's earth-toned, stylish packaging which, like the composer, entices the consumer with casual wildness, the new recording also surprises, as the composer did, with an intellectual rigor and honesty often obscured by outside appearances.
Over the last thirty years, no one has done more for new music on the guitar than David Tanenbaum. Henze, Riley (Elder, younger), Harrison, and Kernis have all found champion, friend and interpreter in Tanenbaum. Thus, it is with heavy heart that Tanenbaum offers up Serenado
, a collection of original works and transcriptions, which span Harrison's fifty-year relationship with the guitar.
As Harrison's output for the guitar is varied but brief, the recording begins with nine pieces on a variety of subjects from a variety of periods of the composer's development. Tanenbaum's excellent program notes provide the background for his remarkable performance. Harrison's music is like a desert landscape - very arid and dry which comes to life in the dark. Tanenbaums clear tone and precise execution are in high demand on the tracks Threnody, Music for Bill and Me
, and Plaint
. The great spaces in these works are a test for any guitarist - but Tannenbaum maintains a larger musical conception of these works that keeps one centered in the work.
The more open works like Beverly's Troubadour Piece
and Serenado por Gitaro
with their constant, but offset rhythms are what most listeners will associate with Harrison's output for guitar. These pieces are the types that most collegiate player's will associate with as vaguely 'foreign' and 'cool' but with a classical 'integrity' that means they can program them on their recitals. Again, this speaks to the exterior of the works, which, like the recording's packaging, draws in the casual listener (and performer) and rewards them with more than they expect.
The centerpiece of Tanenbaum's disc is the Scenes from Nek Chand
a haunting work for steel guitar. Much like the aforementioned Threnody
the work is built on remarkably open vistas. But Tanenbaum's deft sliding creates connections between the notes not possible on classical guitar. Finally, the long lines are not hinted at but connected. Like a set of dots on a page that once only hinted at an image, they are now connected giving us a complete picture of the work. How sad that Harrison had agreed, shortly before his death, to create another such work.
The recording concludes with two small gems. The first, Tandy's Tango
, where Tanenbaum is assisted by the able Gyan Riley (composer, guitarist) is an early work showing Harrison with characteristic melancholy set against a rhythmic and harmonic language, which rebels against the tendency. The Tango is followed by A Waltz for Evelyn Hinrichsen
a simple work, again plumbing the melancholy depths of Harrison - but this time without the rhythmic tension of the tango working against the emotion, but rather, the slow waltz heightening its air of acceptance. The brevity of the piece and its impact on the listener serve as metaphor for Harrison's oeuvre for the guitar, which is at once deeply emotional and far too brief.