Jennifer Higdon: An Exaltation Of Larks
The Lark Quartet
Gary Graffman, piano
Todd Palmer, clarniet
Blair McMillen, piano
From a marketing standpoint, it's a natural -- the all-female Lark Quartet performs music by female composer Jennifer Higdon, including her Lark Quartet. But this release is more than that. It's actually about a very talented string quartet performing music by a very talented composer. Period. And on that level, An Exaltation of Larks succeeds admirably.
The title work is flowing, modal composition. According to the liner notes, Higdon's intent was to mimic a group of birds, and the music does just that. It swoops and spins, the four instruments coming together and moving apart, just like flocking birds. Motifs twitter and trill like bird calls to. An Exultation of Larks is an appealing work, even if you don't know the program.
Scenes from the Poet's Dreams is an engaging and most unusual-sounding piano quintet. The work was ommissioned by the Lark Quartet and Gary Graffman, who lost the use of his right hand. The piano part is for left hand only, thinning the texture somewhat. Higdon uses the restriction as a resource. the piano becomes a fifth single-line instrument, completely integrated into the ensemble.
Light Refacted -- as befitting the title -- is a somewhat angular work for string quartet, clarinet and piano, The ensemble gives Higdon a lot of textures to play with, and she does. The first movement "Inward" turns slowly like a prism in the sunlight, the various instruments coming together and moving apart, creating subtle permutations of sound. It all comes coalesces in the last movement "Outward." All the players are united, and the united ensemble races ahead to an exciting climax.