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The Harry Partch Collection, Volume 2

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Album Review

The second volume of CRI's series of Partch works includes several major pieces and a couple of exquisite jewels. The first four compositions are grouped under the general heading, "The Wayward," all of which deal, in part, with the musical rendering of everyday American speech, particularly the slang employed by migrant workers and hoboes in the Depression era of the 1930s. "U.S. Highball" is a string of such exclamations, asides, and dispirited remarks set to a nonet of Partch's idiosyncratic instruments, including various percussion, strings, and justly tuned organs. The exoticism of the instrumental sound contrasts squarely with the everyday patterns of the speech (both sung and spoken), creating a unique kind of tension rarely encountered elsewhere. Next, who but Partch would have though of orchestrating the cries of newsboys selling their wares on a foggy San Francisco night? Or setting the text of a letter from a friend to music, sometimes chatty, sometimes carping on personal matters? The result is hugely affecting, as the composer is able to ferret out the deep humanity beneath the superficial observations and provide precisely the right accompaniment, not quite sentimental but extremely sympathetic (although this 1972 recording doesn't quite reach the heights of the original 1950 version). For "Barstow," Partch went to an even more basic text source: the inscriptions and graffiti found on a highway railing in the remote California town, left over the years by itinerant travelers, not all of it "respectable" by any means (the piece ends with the shout, "Why in hell did you come, anyway?"). The final work, "And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma," is sheer bliss, a showpiece for his invented instruments arranged in a series of 34 one-minute-long sections, gradually increasing from duos to a concluding septet. Many of the themes were working models for those employed in his soon-to-be-written masterwork Delusion of the Fury. They are scrumptious lines full of otherworldly melodies and infectious rhythms, both serving as wonderful illustrations of his instruments' capabilities and utterly delightful miniatures in their own right. A superb recording, The Harry Partch Collection, Vol. 2 is a must-have for any self-respecting fan and a reasonable introduction to the composer's work for the intrigued listener.

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The Harry Partch Collection, Volume 2, Gate 5 Ensemble
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