Patricia Spencer and Carol Wincenc, flute; Laura Flax, clarinet; Chris Gekker, trumpet; Jonathan Haas and Deborah Moore, percussion; Joan Tower, piano; André Emilianoff, cello; Sharon Isbin, guitar; Mike Powell, trombone; Stephen Gosling, piano; Muir String Quartet; Double Edge.
Clarity of expression has characterized the music of Joan Tower from the beginning. Whether written for orchestral forces, chamber ensembles, or solo instruments, her music speaks energetically and directly to the listener. Imagery of light and movement come easily to mind with Tower's compositions, imagery that she encourages not only through the music, but also through her titles and her own comments about the music. Her images grow from one into another, sometimes with subtle, seamless transitions, sometimes abruptly, with verve.
In this collection, Tower's trademark qualities abound: rhythmic energy, colorful instrumentation, and fresh sonic textures, plus, in the newer works, an increasing lyricism and broadening emotional range. Night Fields (1994), for string quartet, is dedicated to and performed by the Muir String Quartet. Tower's title suggests the moods created in the piece, which she describes as "a cold, windy night in wheat fields lit up by a bright, full moon, where waves of fast-moving colors ripple over the fields, occasionally settling on a patch of gold." Snow Dreams (1983), for flute and guitar, is a study in balancing the two disparate qualities and technical possibilities of the flute and guitar. The composer has brought them together cohesively, while celebrating their unique voices. Black Topaz (1976), for piano and six instruments, is an exploration of changing sound colors wherein each ensemble instrument magnifies and extends the essence of the piano. Très lent (In memoriam Olivier Messiaen) (1994), for cello and piano, is an homage to Messiaen, in particular a tribute to his Quartet for the End of Time. The final piece on this disc, Stepping Stones: a ballet (1993), is a two-piano reduction of a score originally written for a full orchestra.
Reviews"Joan Tower's music makes some demands on listeners, but it always rewards your attention. These are mostly pictorial pieces, with visual imagery in their content and titles. For example, you might not be able to see the exact image Tower describes just from hearing the String Quartet Night Fields, but the impression of rippling wheat in the darkness makes great sense after you've heard the piece. For listeners with even a mild sense of adventure, I recommend Tower's music highly. And if you like to hear music that challenges the players even more than the listeners, you'll definitely enjoy hearing what these fine musicians do to bring Tower's ideas to life." - Leslie Gerber