Here the Cliffs: The Orchestral Music of Hilary Tann

Very lyrical, yet highly individual music — that’s my impression of the compositions on this new recording. Hilary Tann’s works remind me somewhat of Alan Hovhaness’. Not in terms of melody or harmony, but rather in organization. The pieces move along from point to point driven by their own internal logic. Sometimes the underlying form isn’t readily apparent, but that doesn’t matter –- somehow it all works.

From Afar has some large gestures in it, and the orchestral sound ebbs and flows like the sea. The Cliffs is a work for violin and orchestra, that’s really a concerto, but more of a rhapsody. The solo violin remains in the forefront throughout most of the work, playing angular melodies that the orchestra then comments on.

A short and attractive work. The Feather to the Mountain sounds the most to my ears like Hovhaness. The wide-open theme (the feather, I suppose) is supported by long, static chords and big chordal clusters, both suggesting the massiveness of the mountain. It makes for an interesting study in contrasts.

Integrating an alto saxophone into an orchestra can be a challenge. In The First Spinning Place, for alto sax and orchestra, Hann partially solves the problem by making the alto a solo instrument. But she also effectively brings it into the orchestra by coupling it with unusual instruments – such as a marimba. That provides a surprisingly effective blend. The fluidity of the solo line is perfectly suited to the alto sax, and I suspect this may soon enter the solo saxophonists’ repertoire (if it doesn’t, it should).

Max Lifchitz has done an amazing job with his North/South Recordings label. For years it has championed contemporary music that’s not quite avant-garde, but still innovative enough to deserve a hearing. This new recording of Hillary Tann’s orchestral music is another outstanding addition to the North/South catalog.

Here the Cliffs: Orchestral Music of Hilary Tann
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Kirk Trevor, conductor
North South

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