Family Album

9239

Grammy-nominated guitarist David Starobin’s latest CD includes five recent works composed by close colleagues of the guitarist, including music for guitar and percussion, written for the guitarist and his daughter to play. The music on this disc ranges broadly from the eclectic modernism of Poul Ruders to Paul Lansky’s tuneful and popsy Semi-Suite. Starobin is joined by New York Philharmonic percussionist Daniel Druckman.

Grammy-nominated guitarist David Starobin’s latest CD includes five recent works composed by close colleagues of the guitarist, including music for guitar and percussion, written for the guitarist and his daughter to play. The music on this disc ranges broadly from the eclectic modernism of Poul Ruders to Paul Lansky’s tuneful and popsy Semi-Suite. Starobin is joined by New York Philharmonic percussionist Daniel Druckman.


David Starobin is one of America’s best-known guitarists, the dedicatee of 350 scores by such composers as Elliot Carter, George Crumb, Lukas Foss, Gunther Schuller, Poul Ruders, and Milton Babbitt, among many others, and the founder of Bridge records. His Family Album includes the work of four composers (besides himself) whom the guitarist fondly regards as “old friends and collaborators—virtually family.” Two compositions, one by Starobin, were intended as duets for Starobin and his daughter Allegra (a percussionist), and his wife Becky is one of the CD’s producers. Add the presence of “three of my closest recording colleagues over the decades” and it’s obvious why Starobin considers the result “a family affair.” In keeping with the title, an affable air hovers over the proceedings, somehow evident in Starobin’s relaxed playing. That’s not to say that he isn’t exciting when called for, or that rhythmic exactitude is in any way neglected, just that he has so thoroughly assimilated the music that it emerges with enviable ease and assurance. As in any ideal family gathering, the mood is alternately warm and serene, or boisterous and fun loving.


William Bland’s Six Preludes are often pretty and melodic, with an occasional harmonic bite. Obviously written by someone who knows the instrument intimately, they are, in Starobin’s opinion “miniatures in the best sense of the word: carefully crafted single-idea pieces which occasionally incorporate popular idioms such as ragtime and blues.” The Third Prelude uses a running bass line that’s almost an exact quote (perhaps unintentional) of a Chopin prelude (also number three): it’s amusing, as Bland has been referred to as “the Chopin of West Virginia.” A spiky version of the blues predominates in the Fourth Prelude. Interestingly, there seems to be a subtle reference to South American rhythms when the composer elaborates his opening material. The Six Preludes are from a projected set of 48 that will be a beautiful and impressive addition to the guitar literature when completed.


Poul Ruder’s New Rochelle Suite is fanciful and witty, combining percussion—snare drum, guiro, bass drum, triangle, castanets, whip, vibra-slap, and a non-percussive “bird call”—with the guitar in a delicate but spicy brew. It’s a fascinating exploration of timbre, texture, and dynamics, imaginative and accessible. I especially liked the third movement, “Thanksgiving,” for its resemblance to the film scores of Italian comedies of the 1960s. Daniel Druckman, son of composer Jacob, is the precisely attuned percussionist, blending perfectly with Starobin at every moment. Tania León was born in Cuba, but resides in New York. Bailarín (“Dancer”) strikes a Latin pose, but the result is more Cubist than traditional portraiture. In other words, León uses patterns and rhythms that allude to conventional dances, but abstracts and recombines the elements in unexpected ways. Starobin puts it perfectly: “ Bailarín ’s insistent groove might spring from Tania’s Caribbean origins, but the piece is very much the work of a modern composer ringing her changes.”


Starobin’s Three Places in New Rochelle , “a wink at the great Charles Ives,” brings Druckman back in pieces rich in atmosphere and humor. “Mirage,” the second of the three, adds evocative sounds from triangle, water-filled metal bowls, and splashed water to the guitar part. It has a spare, Eastern quality, reminiscent of certain types of Japanese music. A siren and the clip-clop of horse’s hooves find their way into the first piece, “Bombay Express,” which also features a dialogue between the high and low registers of the guitar. “The Top of Mount Joy,” Starobin’s love song to his wife, accompanies and contrasts its distinctly American melody and guitar style with resonant gong “clouds” that linger in the air (or maybe the metal water bowls make another appearance—I’m not sure). Paul Lansky’s Semi-Suite has six parts, each loosely based on historical dance forms, but with humorous titles: “Putative Prelude,” “Aimless Air,” “Crooked Courante,” “Shameless Sarabande,” “Awkward Allemande,” and “Partly Pavane.” The energetic opener has a semi-sweet tone, while others of the group embrace a less ironic, more straightforward lyricism. I hear echoes of this gentle, nostalgic style in certain Beatles tunes, specifically Michelle, Yesterday , and Blackbird . “Awkward Allemande,” a more vigorous composition, sustains its momentum in part with patterns that recall Banjo picking. Its swift, tart line is periodically interrupted by rhythmic accents and splashes of melody. “Partly Pavane” closes the suite in a softly poetic mood, fading away rather than coming to a decisive conclusion.


David Starobin proudly shows off the pages of his Family Album , allowing us an intimate look at the wide variety of aural snapshots he’s gathered over the years. He’s a congenial and generous host, presenting his numerous selections in the most natural and unaffected way. I enjoyed my hour as his guest and suggest that you will, too. Sound is musical, close but not “inside” the guitar, and the many percussion timbres are vividly delineated.


– Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare

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New compositions by Poul Ruders, William Bland, David Starobin, Paul Lansky, and Tania Leon.

David Starobin, guitar

Daniel Druckman, percussion
BRIDGE 9239