Jack Behrens, David Gilbert, John Donald Robb, Alice Shields - Opus 13

Jack Behrens, David Gilbert, John Donald Robb, Alice Shields – Opus 13

A smattering of modern classical and composition dating from 1976 America on Max Schubel’s Opus One label.

The record opens with a version of Alice Shields’ excellent Wildcat Songs. Composed in 1966, it features piccolo and soprano, and while its vocal elements tend towards the operatic, think less Verdi and more Domenico Guaccero as an apt comparison for both its minimal palette and interplay between instrument and voice. According to later literature by Shields, the libretto is based on a ‘Native American shaman’s poem’ – not unusual in an era of academic music that was fascinated with both rekindling spirituality in classical music and addressing its rather stolid politics. Notably, both Shields and Gilbert asked not to produce liner notes alongside their compositions on this record.

You can hear a sample here.

This is followed by a pair of works by David Gilbert, Poem VII for oboe (played by Humbert Lucarelli) and the beautiful Poem VI for the alto flute (played by Gilbert himself). The latter is quite similar to Wildcat Songs in its density and texture. However, the former veers slightly further afield into extended technique and is all the better for it. The oboe’s dual nature as a rather nasal reed instrument and a much more tonally pure woodwind is deftly explored, occasionally complemented by very pointed breathing and grunts.

On side B, we start with Jack Behrens performance of his own work, The Feast Of Life from 1975. Quite different in character from Gilbert and Shields, it plays seemingly familiar snippets of pop melody alongside alternating lengths of heavy dissonance across a very wide dynamic range – perhaps owing as much to the (what could by then safely be called) traditions of free jazz as classical.

Lastly is John Donald Robb’s Dialogue. Perhaps better known as J.D. Robb, his latter work with the moog on a handful of records was either very well received or unduly fetishized, depending on your take on early analogue synth music (I lean towards the latter). At any rate, speaking of jazz traditions, its structural composition is of particular note:

“The piano part was first recorded on one track of a two track tape. This was then played back and, as he listened, the composer recorded on the other track his improvised guitar comments or replies.”

The recording quality is rather shoddy, and the dynamics of the resulting piece quite tinny. However, there are sections where instead of ‘replying’ to the piano, the guitar seems to just barely preempt it. This play on improvisation, allowing his familiarity with his own prior composition seep into his performance, provides some amusing moments.

Get the full release here.