David Starobin hits milestone with New Music for Guitar

As David Starobin points out in the liner notes for this release, this series started over 35 years ago. The first three volumes were on LP, but as times changed, so did the media. This volume is available as a CD,  digital download, and is found on many streaming services.

But while the delivery has changed, the intent — and the quality — has not. Starobin is still interested in furthering the contemporary repertoire for guitar. As was the case with previous volumes, Starobin has strong personal connections with the works and composers. And because of that, I think, he brings something extra to the performances.

The release opens with “Steps,” a 1975 work by Gregg Smith. Smith wrote the piece for his wife, Rosalind Rees, and David Starobin, who were touring together at the time. The piece is a post-atonal kaleidoscope, the music shifting rapidly in response to the stream of consciousness text. In places, the vocal writing reminded me of Hary Partch’s “Barstow.” Rees and Starobin’s familiar partnership make this piece work — and work well.

William Bland’s simple, and beautiful set of variations of Carl Nielsen’s “Underlige Aftenlufte” was quite charming. As the variations progress, the music undergoes some major transformations — dare I say deconstruction? I consider it a companion piece to Starobin’s own “Neilsen Variations” found on Volume 8.

“Four Stevens” by Starobin’s brother Michael sets four visionary poems by Wallace Stevens. And although each poem references a season (making the title a pun), the music itself stays fairly serious and quietly contemplative.

Composers Paul Chihara and Poul Ruders are label mates with Starobin (who’s also the co-founder of Bridge Records), so it’s not surprising to see them represented here. Chlhara’s 2014 “The Girl from Yerevan” is an engaging work for violin, viola, and guitar. This post-tonal work, to my ears, has a certain lightness to it. Perhaps it’s the use of the viola rather than the cello.

“Oh Mother” is an excerpt from Poul Ruders’ 2015 opera “The Thirteenth Child.” The libretto was written by David and Becky Starobin. This chamber work for soprano, string quartet, and guitar is almost Coplanesque in places. It’s a beautiful, poignant work that makes me want to hear the entire opera.

New Music With Guitar, Vol. 10
David Starobin, guitar
Music by Gregg Smith, William Bland, Michael Starobin, Paul Chihara, Poul Ruders
Bridge Records 9458

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