Harrison: Rhymes with Silver

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: New Albion
WORKS: Rhymes with Silver
PERFORMER: Joan Jeanrenaud (cello), David Abel (violin), Benjamin Simon (viola), Julie Steinberg (piano), William Winant (percussion)
Commissioned by Mark Morris for his dance group in 1997, Lou Harrison’s 12-movement Rhymes with Silver is a strange mixture of the introvert and the extrovert, the anguished and the poignant. Gone are Harrison’s trademark big, crowd-pleasing tunes and radiant, diatonic harmony, and in their place he has created a darker, more intense work than much of his output.


The piece is scored for Morris’s touring ensemble of violin, viola, cello, piano and percussion, but it’s the solo cello that’s the main musical protagonist, in three impassioned, sometimes tempestuous movements in the first half of the piece, and in the resolute ‘Five-tone Kit’ near the work’s end. The part was originally written for Yo-Yo Ma, but Joan Jeanrenaud creates some beautiful sonorities here, from a whole range of pizzicato sounds in the Scherzo to some gloriously rich, arching melodies in the positive-minded ‘Five-tone Kit’. If these solo movements are the work’s inward-looking core, then the movements for the whole ensemble reach the other extreme: the ‘Gigue and Musette’ (originally composed in 1943 and enjoyed by Schoenberg, Harrison’s teacher at the time) is an unashamedly rumbustious romp through some of the composer’s favourite forms, and the hilariously cacophonous ‘Foxtrot’ sounds like a deranged salon orchestra.


Performances are excellent – particularly noteworthy alongside Jeanrenaud are pianist Julie Steinberg’s piercing, chiming chords, and the subtle contributions from percussionist William Winant – and the closely miked sound suits the work’s intensity perfectly. David Kettle