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THE REHEARSAL STUDIO is impressed by the freshness and immediacy of PARTCH - Sonata Dementia

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There are times that I feel as if the phrase "American original" has been invoked so often across such a diversity of sources that it has become trivialized. Composers representative of that epithet on this site easily include Charles Ives, John Cage, Lou Harrison, Henry Cowell, and, for that matter, Edgard Varèse, who moved from France to the United States in December of 1915 and turned away from his traditional training in Paris almost immediately. Nevertheless, there are several ways in which Harry Partch has his own personal distinctions. One of them involves the nine years he spent as a hobo during the height of the Great Depression. Another led to his approach to just intonation that differed significantly from Harrison's pursuits and ultimately resulted in an ensemble of invented instruments to accommodate a division of the octave into 43 unequal intervals.

A little over a week ago, Bridge released the third volume in its series. As might be expected, there is considerable overlap when it comes to the pieces being performed. Nevertheless, this series is the latest to involve a contemporary ensemble committed to providing faithful accounts of Partch's music without the benefit of direct contact with the composer.

In spite of the wealth of archival material, there are three selections being recorded for the first time. One of these, "Sonata Dementia," provides the title for the album. Another, "Windsong," is the original version of what would eventually become "Daphne of the Dunes." That original version was written for a film made by Madeline Tourtelot; and "Daphne" would later emerge as an expansion of the score for a dance-drama. Finally, there is the first release of a "bonus track" of Partch himself playing what has become one of his best-known compositions, "Barstow," as a solo performance at the Eastman School of Music in 1942.

While the historian in me has been drawn to all of that archival material that began to emerge after Partch's death, I definitely laud the commitment of a present-day ensemble to keep the composer's music alive through both concert performances and recordings. I first encountered PARTCH on the Color Theory album released by the PRISM Quartet in the spring of 2017. However, the Sonata Dementia album provided my first opportunity to listen to the group perform compositions by its namesake. I have been impressed by the freshness of the groups immediacy, which interleaves with Partch's "original spirit" without making too much of a show of itself. Perhaps it is time for me to look into the two preceding volumes!