The Peabody Trio; Seth Knopp, piano; Natasha Brofsky, cello
That Shulamit Ran (b. 1949) has mastered clarity and the vital essence of composition, the art of communication, is clearly evinced by the four pieces on this disc, two solo works-Fantasy Variations (1979/rev.1984) for cello and Verticals (1982) for piano-and two works for trio, Excursions (1980) and Soliloquy (1997). Ran's fierce musical individuality has sometimes been placed by critics and historians in a tradition with the composers of the second Viennese school-Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg. The works from the 1970s and late 1980s in particular reveal a rich chromaticism that cycles quickly through all twelve pitches. Angular and sometimes pointillistic melodies with large intervals dramatically shift from one emotional gesture to another. It must be noted, however, that Ran, to date, has never written a piece that has remained strictly within serialist parameters. Rather, in describing her style she coined the phrase "freely atonal," with an emphasis on the word "freely."
To make parallels with the second Viennese school, however, we might look more aptly to Alban Berg's lush, romantic, and dramatic compositional style. It is this sense of the dramatic that is often mentioned by reviewers, and Ran's own expression marks in scores often read more like stage directions than like musical terms. Ultimately, a composition by Shulamit Ran tends to feels like a journey or an adventure-there is always a sense of motion and progression, through many emotions and dramatic outbursts, through moments of calm and ethereal lucidity, always moving toward centers of harmonic gravity.