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Monday, August 22, 2016

Robert Carl, The Geography of Loss

Robert Carl devises a modern music that sounds like no other. On The Geography of Loss (New World 80780-2) we have the opportunity to hear four major works, each with definitive personality and dramatic impact.

His teachers, Xenakis, Shapey, Rochberg, and Jonathan Kramer gave him perhaps the courage to go his own way, as he does in these works.

We last encountered Carl on these pages on October 1, 2013 with an anthology of piano music, Shake the Tree. I found that one quite illuminating and now we get to hear his recent music for larger ensembles.

His "Symphony No. 4, The Ladder" (2008) is a brilliantly orchestrated, highly dynamic, dissonantly modern work with a musical narrative that deliberates as it expands a sound universe all its own.

The "Chamber Concerto for Guitar and 10 Instruments, The Calm Bee in the Busy Hive" (2009-10) was written in response to Carl's rapid loss of both parents in a short piece of time. There are parts for two unusually tuned guitars, with the second reinforcing what the first is doing. The first movement is oddly canonical, musically representing the building of the hive with the queen bee at the center of things. The second movement is elegaic, movingly funereal.

"The World Turned Upside Down" (1999/2000) for symphony orchestra began as the final movement in his "Piano Sonata No. 2" in 1999 and was orchestrated and reworked as the third movement of his "Symphony No. 3" (2000), but can also be heard as it is here on its own. It is the turning point of Carl's compositional methods toward a concern with harmonic series. Somber and full of dense clusters of vertical chords, it is evocative, very memorable and towards the end takes the form of a sort of modern chorale.

The final piece is the eight-movement title work, "The Geography of Loss" (2010) for soprano, baritone, mixed chamber ensemble and chorus and again was written in reaction to the sudden deaths of his parents. Carl cites the influence of Bach and Stravinsky for this music and you can hear a certain structural quality in all of it that seems to reference the masters, yet it like the others stands out as original. Modern and lucidly scored, it covers a great deal of ground. The choral writing is especially poignant.

In the end you come away from this program with a distinct impression of a modern master finding his own way in a high modern zone with a noticeable lyric and dramatic panache that places him in a class of one. Highly recommended.

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