Woman Without Adornment (1995) (24:37)
Text from 1959 by Thulani Davis
Thulani Davis, reciter; Alva Rogers, voice; Jeffrey Schanzer, guitars; Mark Dresser, bass; Bernadette Speach; piano & conductor
les ondes pour quatre (1988) (10:04)
The Arditti String Quartet
Trio Des Trois III (1992) (10:56)
Lois Martin, viola; David Heiss, cello; Anthony de Mare, piano
When It Rains...Lleuve (1995) (5:55)
Anthony de Mare, piano
Chosen Voices (1991) (3:59)
Jeffrey Schanzer, prepared guitar; Bernadette Speach, toy piano
Angels In The Snow (1993) (5:57)
Bernadette Speach, piano
Viola (2000) (10:51)
Rozanna, viola; Anthony de Mare, piano
Speach, a student of Morton Feldman, often captures the suspended dynamism and coloristic vision of her mentor, but the work is further infused with her own considerable musical personality. It deftly bridges new music, jazz and appealing, easily enjoyed sensibility - bursting the bonds of postminimalism to evoke a thoughtful, introverted romanticism.
Reflections consists of recent compositions. les ondes pour quatre was written for the Arditti String Quartet at the request of Irvine Arditti. When It Rains...Lleuve showcases the pianistic and vocal talents of regular Speach collaborator Anthony de Mare.
Woman Without Adornment is Speach's latest collaboration with acclaimed write Thulani Davis, who also contributed the libretto to Anthony Davis's opera "X". Writer/critic/composer Kyle Gann said of their collaborations: "Not since the beat poetry/jazz fusion of the 1950s has anyone sought the kind of fusion of spoken word and music that Bernadette Speach and Thulani Davis are exploring. But where beat poetry revealed in an improvisatory relationship between words and music, Speach and Davis have created a snug fit still loose enough to allow for the spontaneity of Davis's reading. And over the years their collaborations have shown how flexible and fertile their self-made genre can be.
It's given us vivid pictures of a moment in American society like Telepathy Suite; ... and in Woman without Adornment a more intimate, personal memoir from Davis's novel 1959. And through the whole series, Speach's delicate postminimal jazz and Davis's warmly idiosyncratic inflections infuse the genre with subtle shades of color that could have come from no one else."
Some composers are easy to pigeonhole while others resist simple categorization. Count New York-based composer Bernadette Speach among the latter.
Speach's oeuvre of the last fourteen years or so can best be described as New Tonalist with a penchant for jazzy verticals and a Downtown affinity for patterned material and loose unfolding. Her music also contains experimentalist touches such as extended techniques and indeterminacy. And there's significant influence of the hushed output of her primary teacher, Morton Feldman, and pieces such as John Cage's piano solo Dream.
The best selections here maximize Speach's finely honed ear for sonic beauty -- most all this music can be characterized as languid, winsome, luscious, and fragile -- while downplaying their lack of structure and tendency to stop rather than end. Fortunately, several of these items, including Chosen Voices (1991) for toy piano and prepared guitar as well as the solo piano entities Angels in the Snow (1993) and When It Rains, Lleuve (1995) are short enough to coast by on their lovely exteriors. The longer the opus, the more noticeable the problem, however -- Trio des Trois (1992) for viola, cello, and piano, and especially the sprawling Women Without Adornment (1995) for voice, reciter, and mixed trio would have all benefited greatly from clearer structure and closings that convince. The latest work encountered here, Viola (2000) for that instrument and piano, fortunately shows some attempts to think architecturally, tracing some narrative curve aspects.
The string quartet les ondes pour quatre (1988) seems from an earlier period. Here, patterned material is layered thickly, outlining a spiky harmonic language. Absent the fetching surface of later listens, it pleases least.
Performances are good. From the sizable list of executants, one should single out the Arditti String Quartet, guitarist Jeffrey Schanzer, violist Rozanna, and pianists Speach and Anthony DeMare for their evocative playing. Production is fine and sound quality is exemplary.
--- David Cleary, Living Music Journal, Fall 2006-Spring 2007
Trio des Trois; When It Rains, Lleuve; Chosen Voices; Les ondes pour quatre; Angels in the Snow; Woman without Adornment; Viola
Lois Martin (viola); David Heiss (cello); Anthony de Mare (piano); Jeffrey Schanzer (guitars); Bernadette Speach (piano and toy piano); Alva Rogers (voice); Thulani Davis (reciter); Mark Dresser (bass); Rozanna (viola)
Artistic Quality: 6
Sound Quality: 10
It is difficult to say where this music goes wrong. New York-based American composer Bernadette Speach has a way with harmony and pacing--very elegant and restrained, vying for a Satie-like simplicity. It is a serious risk to take, to skirt this line of elegance and vapidity, and she spends time on both sides of it. What's nearly missing from this collection is contrast: every piece seems to fall into the same slow tempo, which makes listening to the whole program something of a "white noise" experience. Perhaps Speach's intention is to create motionless, meditative music--even the new-agey title suggests this--but the surface gets too active for stasis, too static to be compelling in the romantic sense.
However, there also is much here to like: Trios des Trois has some lovely, lush, fearlessly tonal harmonies and appealing instrumentation; Chosen Voices, a piece for prepared guitar and toy piano, has some interesting plinks and plunks--though the liner notes surprisingly fail to explain how the guitar was prepared. Speach's piece for the Arditti Quartet, Les ondes pour quatre, probably is very elegant, but the Ardittis play everything with unnecessarily jagged ferocity, which makes a reasoned judgement difficult. In the aptly-titled Viola, Rozanna (no last name) plays the moving solo part with passion and intensity, building to Speach's well-heard climax, and she's matched by the powerful Anthony de Mare on piano. This pianist also takes very seriously the ridiculous solo venture When It Rains, Lleuve, which requires him to sing, snap, and tap, as well as play the piano. It's a noble effort and a good performance, but to little end.
The strongest offering on the disc is Woman without Adornment, a 25-minute-long work for reciter, singer, guitar, bass, and piano. It is moving, mostly due to the subject matter of the spoken text--about the room inhabited by a mother who has since died--but the plaintive simplicity that Speach uses to set this straightforward poetry is appropriate and powerful. There are also more playful sections that require a bluesy sound from the ensemble (and even some foxy electric guitar work by Jeffrey Schanzer and walking bass by Mark Dresser). The text is beautifully spoken by its author, Thulani Davis, and well sung by Alva Rogers. But this piece, like the rest of the music found here, gets caught in the threnody trap, refusing to pick up. The disc was recorded with exceptional care for instrumental (and vocal) detail and with knowing regard for natural, appropriate balances.
--- Daniel Felsenfeld, www.classicstoday.com
Bernadette Speach's new recording, aptly titled Reflections, samples her chamber music from 1988-2000, demonstrating a highly personal and offbeat style. Particularly notable are Chosen Voices, for prepared guitar and toy piano (the very one once lent to John Cage) and Viola in which a single note in the viola part holds its own against persistent piano chords. A solid recording that is both expressive and amusing.
--- Frank Otieri, American Music Box, April 2002
Throughout the history of recordings, women's voices have left their mark,
preserving and extending traditions as they bridge past and future. Here are
four terrific recent examples of women of note (the others were Ann Savoy w. Linda Ronstadt, Louise Goffin and the Eroica Trio).
Bernadette Speach (b. 1948) is part of a new breed of composers whose
largely-tonal and appealing music merges jazz and classical streams with
Her latest disc, "Reflections" (Mode 105), showcases the student of Morton
Feldman and Lajaren Hiller in chamber music settings that show off her
profound gift for melody, color and mood, as well as her ability to project
with prickly intensity. Performed by Lois Martin (viola), David Heiss
(cello), Anthony de Mare (piano), husband Jeffrey Schanzer (prepared guitar),
the Arditti Quartet and others (including Speach herself on solo piano), the
seven works on this disc illustrate Speach's broad range.
No doubt the most compelling material comes from her collaboration with poet
Thulani Davis, titled "Woman without Adornment" (1995). With Davis reciting
over Speach's gently-waltzing piano/guitar backdrops and vocalist Alva Rogers
half singing, half speaking, the performers create a well-illustrated
portrait of a simple mother, the household she left behind in death and the
things she meant to her earthly survivors. Simplicity is at the heart of the
seven vignettes in the cycle, infused with echoes of emotion and lingering
connection with their subject. As is the case throughout many of the pieces,
both instrumentalists and vocalists tend to complete each other's lines. It
is unabashedly emotional yet paradoxically matter of fact.
Elsewhere Speach carves away and gradually reveals things, as in "When It
Rains, Lleuve" (1995) for solo piano in which fragments of rhythm and melody
from her trips to Puerto Rico unfold. "Chosen Voices" for prepared guitar and
toy piano, dedicated to John Cage, explores realms of childlike joy and
exotic texture while "les ondes pour quatre" (1988) takes on a dark, wavelike
sense of motion and density. "Viola" (2000) for viola and piano, which closes
the disc, is Speach's loving, emotional and somewhat mysterious instrumental
portrait of her own mother.
Like many good things, this is a disc that rewards the listener for each
listen and grows deeper with time. Grade: Scorcher!
-- Daniel Buckley, Tucson Citizen, March 21, 2002
Bernadette Speach on Mode:
Without Borders (mode 16)
Schanzer/Speach Duo - Dualities (mode/avant 02)
Arditti Quartet on Mode:
John Cage: The Complete String Quartets Vol. 1 (mode 17)
The Complete String Quartets Vol. 2 (mode 27)
Vol. 19 - The Number Pieces 2 - Five3 for trombone &
string quartet (mode 75)
The Works for Violin 6, The String Quartets 4
Elliott Carter - Quintets and Voices (mode 128)
Chaya Czernowin: Afatsim: Chamber Music (mode 77)
Peter Maxwell Davies: Le Jongleur de Notre Dame (mode 59)
Alvin Lucier:Navigations for Strings; Small Waves (mode 124)
Gerard Pape (mode 26)
Bernadette Speach: Reflections (mode 105)
Xenakis, UPIC, Continuum: Electroacoustic &
Instrumental works from CCMIX Paris (mode 98/99)
Bernadette Speach profile
Jeffrey Schanzer profile
The Arditti Quartet profile
Thulani Davis profile