Classical Candor: “Perspectives” review

Published on July 31, 2022 by John J. Puccio       |      Share this post!

“An album of perfectly harmonious charm.” 

To say there isn’t an abundance of purely classical percussion recordings around might be an understatement. Perhaps it seems odd, given that every classical orchestra has a percussion section, that the percussion should not have as much day in the sun as the violin and the piano have enjoyed. Maybe it’s because percussive instruments don’t make as persuasively plush, mellifluous sounds as violins and pianos. I mean, you can’t really wax too very lyrical on a drum. Anyway, such paucity of percussive recordings makes this new album from Third Coast Percussion all the more appealing. The players are quite good, and the four selections they chose for the program are all world-premiere recordings.

So, the first selection on the program is the Percussion Quartet by American composer Danny Elfman (b. 1953). Although Elfman is primarily known these days as a film composer (BatmanDarkmanSpider-ManMen in Black, and the like), he has also written a number of concert and stage pieces. But he’s done only one percussion work so far, and it’s surprisingly traditional, written in four fairly symphonic movements. It’s also among the more accessible works on the disc, which is probably why the producers chose to put it first. The fusion of instruments in the music is such that one quickly forgets there are only four people involved and that they are playing solely in the percussion medium. I quipped earlier that one can hardly wax lyrical on a drum, but in the second, slow movement, that’s exactly what the players do. The whole piece is really quite beautiful and expertly handled.

The next piece is by the well-known American composer and pianist Philip Glass (b. 1937). It’s the briefest selection on the album at about nine minutes, and it is Metamorphosis No. 1. He based it on his original solo piano version, and Third Coast Percusssion perform it on marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, and melodica. Frankly, it sounds to me much richer and mellower on the percussion instruments than it does on the piano. I found it far more attractive in its new trappings than ever before, more varied, more mellifluous, more rhythmically dynamic, simply more appealing. And I can’t imagine it being done any better than by Third Coast Percussion.

Next on the agenda is the longest work, Perspective, in seven movements by American electronic musician Jlin (Jerrilyn Patton, b. 1987). It is remarkably varied in its rhythms and nuances and provides endless opportunities for the percussive instruments to express themselves. It’s also perhaps closer to what most of us would expect to hear from a percussion group. It has a certain exotic quality to it, some of it sounding like music of the South Seas or Asian Pacific, while other parts demonstrate a quiet dissonance. All of it, however, is rather Romantic in nature, with nothing discordant enough to jar our senses. Remarkably, too, this is the first recording I can remember that produced musical notes a good three feet or more outside the main speakers. It was as though I had additional speakers on the side walls, given the surround sound I heard. It was a little eerie, actually, but quite pleasant.

The final item is called Rubix, a collaboration by Third Coast Percussion and Flutronix (Nathalie Joachim and Allison Loggins-Hull, both of whom are reaching out from their classical roots). The music is elegant and colorful, and the precision of the players contributes to an overall sense of tasteful grace. It makes a fitting conclusion to an album of perfectly harmonious charm. What I thought might be a cacophonous disc of tumultuous noise turned out to be a calming and relaxing respite, I loved it.

Producers Elain Martone, Colin Campbell, and Danny Elfman and engineers Bill Maylone, Dan Nichols, and Jonathan Lackey recorded the music at Chicago Recording Company in October 2020. As we would expect from Cedille, who always produce good-sounding discs, this one, with its small ensemble of percussion instruments, sounds terrific. It’s done fairly close up, so each instrument is clearly delineated, and with the addition of some mild room resonance, the result is both realistic and satisfying.

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