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North South recordings

Larry BELL (born 1952)

The Black Cat Op.28 (1987)a
Caprice for Solo Cello Op.12 (1978)b
Fantasia on an Imaginary Hymn Op.17 (1983/4)c
River of Ponds Op.5 (1986)d
Robert J. Lurtsema (narrator)a; Sarah Clarke (viola)c; Eric Bartlett (cello)abcd; Larry Bell (piano)ad
Recorded: WGBH-FM Radio, Boston, April 1998 (The Black Cat); Unitarian Church, Montclair, NJ, May 1998 (Caprice, Fantasia); SUNY Purchase Recital Hall, Purchase, NJ, May 1998 (River of Ponds)
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The present release samples Larry Bell’s music for cello, and a very contrasted body of works it is too, of which the earliest is Caprice Op.12 (1978). This is actually the first of a series of similarly titled pieces for solo instruments. This is a freely constructed fantasy based on several basic elements continually transformed, separated or combined in many ways. This is a brilliant piece of musical display exploiting the many characteristics of the instruments, though never extravagantly so. A really fine work that cellists should happily add to their repertoire.

Fantasia on an Imaginary Hymn Op.17 (1983/4) is for the somewhat rarer combination of viola and cello. It falls into two parts of fairly equal length in which counterpoint is paramount. The music is strictly organised and tightly argued. Any less modest composer would have called this piece a sonata, which this impressive piece really is.

River of Ponds Op.25 dates from 1986. The title is drawn from a series of paintings called River of Ponds by Frank Stella, one of which aptly adorns the cover of this release. The composer mentions that the titles of the three movements of the piece refer to his childhood in North Carolina. Black Creek is based on a folk-like, though original melody. The second movement Wyatt Earp’s Pond (a nickname given to a fishing hole near where the composer grew up) is actually a Scherzo with two trios, the latter quoting a hymn tune. The concluding Silver Lake is some sort of varied Rondo partly based on material from the first movement. A substantial piece of tuneful, warmly lyrical cello writing with a hint of Americana sometimes calling Copland to mind.

The last work is a melodrama for narrator, cello and piano based on Poe’s tale The Black Cat which the composer quite efficiently adapted from the original, leaving out many of the asides and thus tightening the narration. The cello represents the cat whose ‘meow’ is aptly stylised by a glissando, whereas the piano represents the narrator and sets the scene of the various episodes of the story. A superbly written and highly entertaining piece well worth a hearing.

Larry Bell’s music is contemporary, though very tuneful and warmly lyrical, and – above all – very accessible. Eric Bartlett who enjoys a long association with Bell’s music is a dedicated performer in these fine works, and the composer is obviously also a very fine pianist. A very fine, enjoyable release on all counts.

Hubert Culot

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