Astral Vinyl is an album of new works by Texan composer Stephen Barber released in May of this year by Navona Records. It fits squarely within the burgeoning "New Synthetist" movement of contemporary art music, in that elements of many different genres can be heard throughout the album, often within the same track. The diversity of sonorities makes it difficult to generalize about the album's content: most of the pieces are emotionally direct, with clear and memorable melodies drawing on the folk and popular traditions, but there are moments of disquieting and elusive subtlety as well that seem to originate in the more abstract realms of 20th century classical music thought.
The most striking example of the bold and direct aspects of Barber's writing are found in the rousing, muscular, almost martial strains of Conversatio Morum I. It begins with a memorable melodic "hook," undergirded by a strong eighth-note pulse in the low strings, which, when it ends, is replaced by a drum tattoo. The main theme undergoes a great deal of melodic and harmonic development, showing off Barber's mastery of both traditional and contemporary tonal idioms. In the middle, there is a brief contrasting theme introduced by the piano, which sounds like nothing so much as a journey or heroic tale. A dissonant transitional section, supported by an off-beat pizzicato string rhythm and a constant drumbeat, follows. When modified versions of the main theme are reintroduced, new sounds of chiming percussion support them. A strong descending flourish concludes this forceful but beautiful work.
However, the album both begins and ends with more nuanced fare.Read more ›
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