The two words that sprang to mind as I listened to this collection of Poul Ruder’s chamber music was “amiable atonality.” These chambers works move well beyond tonality, without a hint of academic dryness. Every work had real personality, often full of warmth and gentle humor.
Guitarist David Starobin and Poul Ruders have enjoyed a long and fruitful collaborative relationship, and Starobin brings his deep understanding of Ruders’ music to two works. The “New Rochelle Suite” for guitar and percussion is a witty composition, and Starobin and percussionist Daniel Druckman perform it with a sometimes wink at the audience. Ruders scores imaginatively for percussion, making non-tonal instruments such as the castanets and tom-toms (among many other) add nuanced shading to the guitar’s wide-ranging melodies.
“Schrödinger’s Cat” is a set of 12 canons for violin and guitar that reflect the ambivalence of the title. In quantum mechanics, Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment illustrating the paradoxical concept that particles can be in two states simultaneously until observed. So, too, these canons seem to shift back and forth until they suddenly collapse into a final cadence. Starobin and Amalia Hall perform these canons in an unadorned fashion, just presenting the facts — which seem to change before our ears.
“Romances for viola and piano” is romantic in nature, but the expressive yearnings of the melody get their poignancy from decidedly post-tonal chromatic inflections. Violist Hsin-Yun Huang and pianist Sarah Rothenberg make a great team, though, bring out the emotion in the music without being too emotive.
David Holzman performs “Twinkle Bells – Piano Etude No. 2” with a light, deft touch. He makes the cascading thirds that make up the bulk of the etude shimmer and tinkle like tiny bells. He also brings the album to a close with Ruders’ “13 Postludes.” These are wonderfully-crafted short little works that evoke the spirit of Chopin — in an amiably atonal way.
Poul Ruders, Vol. 9
David Starobin, guitar; Daniel Druckman, percussion; David Holzman, piano; Amalia Hall, violin; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola, Sara Rothenberg, piano