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Jeremy BECK (b. 1960)
Pause and Feel and Hark

Sonata No.3 Moon (1997)a [13:14]
Songs without Words (1997)b [9:05]
Black Waters (1994)c [40:16]
Emilio Colón (cello)a; Heather Coltman (piano)a; Elizabeth Sadilek (flute)b; Gretchen Brumwell (harp)b; Jean McDonald (soprano)c; Robin Guy (piano)c
rec. Florida Atlantic University, May 2003 (Sonata No.3); University of Northern Iowa, October 1998 (Songs without Words); May 1999 (Black Water)
INNOVA 650 [62:43]

Some biographical information first. Born in 1960, Jeremy Beck studied with Lukas Foss, Jacob Druckman, Stephen Jaffe and David Loeb. He holds degrees from the Yale School of Music, Duke University and the Mannes College of Music. He is a cello player, so no wonder that he has composed three cello sonatas. Some of his orchestral music is available on another Innova disc (Innova 612). Although he studied with musicians who may have been regarded as modernists, his music is firmly rooted in free tonality, and is – judging by the works recorded here – warmly melodic and colourful with unexpected harmonic twists. This is clearly evident in the Cello Sonata No.3 “Moon” and in Songs without Words (flute and harp), both completed in 1997. The three movements of the Third Cello Sonata allude to a sort of baroque suite (Aria da Capo, Pavane and Galliard, although the music never imitates its classical models. The music generally speaks for itself and is exactly what one has come to expect from the movements’ titles. The third movement, however, is somewhat more developed and cast as “a developing rondo” (the composer’s words) and ends with a shortened restatement of the opening theme of the first movements. Songs without Words is a beautiful piece in three movements for one of the loveliest instrumental combinations: flute and harp. Beck’s richly melodic vein is again much in evidence; and the music never outstays its welcome. A really lovely work that perfectly lives up to its title.
Black Water, a monodrama for soprano and piano is by far the most substantial and ambitious work here. The words are adapted by the composer from Joyce Carol Oates’ eponymous novel. “[Oates’ story] is presented completely from the point of view of the drowning woman: in reality, in flashback, in dreams and in hallucinations” (the composer’s words).  There is thus ample scope for musical characterisation throughout this long piece. The soprano’s part relies on song as well as on spoken word - a bit too much of the latter to my taste. The music, however, is remarkably varied in order to reflect the many moods suggested by the words, although I suspect that some might find Beck’s musical idiom too single-minded to do full justice to the wide range of emotions implied by the text. The drama might have been greatly enhanced, had the piece been scored for orchestra with soprano and narrator sharing the words in order to suggest the various perspectives of dream, hallucination and reality. The work obviously calls for a more expansive treatment, which the black-and-white colours of the piano do not always completely convey. However, this is an impressive piece of music in its own right.
Beck’s music is yet another example of what can be successfully achieved within the boundaries of tradition, for it is never reactionary and holds enough harmonic and rhythmical surprises to sustain the interest. These three pieces are superbly served by the performers who play and sing with all their heart in a most convincing way. Well worth investigating.
Hubert Culot

see also review by Glyn Pursglove



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