For composers beyond counting, the sound of bells has been a source of magnetic fascination since time immemorial (figures as disparate as Rachmaninoff and Jonathan Harvey immediately come to mind), but few have hardwired it in their creative psyche as deeply as Augusta Read Thomas. Previous releases in this series have already included a number of such works, but the present volume is the first one to concentrate upon this long-standing preoccupation. Each of the three major works gathered here is prefaced by a short miniature.
*Crescat Scientia; Vita Excolatur - Over a span of 4½ minutes, the music begins with insistent, urgent tattoos before it streams into a clangorous scampanìo culminating in a simultaneous sounding of all 72 bells of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel's carillon. Finally, the bells toll slowly away into silence.
*Upon Wings of Words - Emily Dickinson - This work is an anomaly on this collection as, other than a plentiful use of resonant plucked strings, there is nothing bell-like about it. It is instead the most recent manifestation of Thomas' long-term engagement with the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and it commands attention by virtue of the voice being treated largely instrumentally, as a fully integrated component of the ensemble deployed here.
*Bebop Riddle - Bebop Riddle, for solo marimba, simply hurtles forward without a backward glance, its restless syncopations snapping, crackling and popping player and listener along through its taut 5-minute course. As to its deadpan conclusion, one might be forgiven for wondering if the music is still going on somewhere else, out of earshot……..
*Enchanted Invocation - Enchanted Invocation might be viewed as a meditative counterpart to Bebop Riddle; here, the vibraphone’s liquid harmonies slowly build, dissolve and morph into each other, with the crotales’ occasional pinpricks piercing the music’s almost incorporeal warp and weft.
*Sonorous Earth - Sonorous Earth began its life as an intended companion piece to the earlier metal percussion quartet Resounding Earth, but it would soon take on a completely distinct identity from the earlier work, to which it now bears only the most tangential of connections. The percussion ensemble, playing on bells from around the world, is without question the dominant sonic presence here.
The orchestra is a strong presence in its own right, and the soloists, rather than playing around or against it, permeate its sound with a sheen alternately translucent, glowing, tintinnabular and brazen, almost chameleon-like as its colours constantly liquefy and morph..
*Ring Out Wild Bells To The Wild Sky - Ring Out, Wild Bells, to the Wild Sky, setting verses by Tennyson, is the earliest work on this release. Thomas’ penchant for sharp, stinging bell-like sonorities is already present, but the pace is markedly broader, the rhythms more static, the harmonic build-ups more deliberate, sonically panning slowly over massive vistas with multiple depths of perspectives.