Review of LNT131: Pantomime: Chamber Music of Peter Child
Carson Cooman, Fanfare
Peter Child (b.1953) was born in England, but after entering an exchange program to complete a degree at Reed College, he remained in the U.S.A. He is currently a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Child has written many pieces in all forms except opera, and his chamber music has been particularly well represented on CD: a previous disc on Lorelt and discs on New World, Albany, and Neuma. Robert Carl very positively reviewed Child’s latest Albany release in Fanfare 33:1, and I agree with his assessments in every respect. Child is a masterly composer with an expressive, lyric voice incorporating both traditional and modern elements in witty, energetic, and captivating ways. All of the works on the CD are brief (under 15 minutes), and all but one are made up of shorter movements—this is true of most of Child’s output. To call him a miniaturist is technically accurate, though that term belies the depth of substance that he packs into his short movements. So many contemporary composers succumb to the sin of self-indulgence (which I personally believe is the worst fault a composer can possess). One of the things that first attracted me (years ago) to Child’s music is that he is one of the relatively few contemporary voices I know who entirely lacks even a hint of this self-indulgence.
The two song cycles that frame this recording explore contrasting expressive characters. Songs of Bidpal (2002) is bright and festive, with a sparkling surface. The texts are poems (in translation) by the Libyan poet Muhammad al-Faituri and were chosen by the composer as a gesture of solidarity in the midst of the widespread anti-Arab sentiment following the September 11, 2001, attacks. The more traditionally romantic Rilke Songs (2008) set short German verses taken from Rilke’s “uncollected poems”; the texts are thus lesser-known than many of Rilke’s poems. In both cases, the poems have mystical characteristics, but al-Faituri’s verses represent the whirling dervish, while Rilke’s explore the heart through sonorous nature landscapes.
Pantomime (2007) is subtitled “seven lyric scenes for oboe quartet.” Of particular note is the beautiful Chorale and Chorale Prelude. Promenade (2006) for sextet is described by the composer as being inspired by long walks in Suffolk, England, during which he found himself drawn to the sounds of church bells (and change ringing). Scored for the popular “Pierrot plus percussion” chamber sextet, the work has a giddy and infectious energy. The Viola Sonata (2000) is also a largely extroverted piece—a welcome change of pace from the typical mournfully lyric literature for viola.
The excellent Lontano ensemble under the leadership of founding director Odaline de la Martinez has championed many of Child’s pieces; this is their second CD devoted entirely to his music. Any of the previous all-Child recordings available could serve as a good introduction to this very fine composer, and this new disc is no exception. Child’s orchestral music (of which there are a number of strong pieces, particularly works written during his years as composer in residence to the Albany Symphony) is not yet represented on disc; hopefully this may be a future release. Scarcely a month goes by where I don’t revisit at least one of the Child CDs in my collection for pleasure listening, and I warmly recommend this disc, as I do his other releases.