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William Susman's 'A Quiet Madness' is a welcome break from the tensions and stresses of our daily lives / SHARPS & FLATIRONS

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SHARPS & FLATIRONS - Peter Alexander writes.....One of the perks of job that I do is that people send me recordings.

They want me to review or write about them. Sometimes they come in the U.S. mail, actual CDs. Sometimes they come in the form of links to Mp3 files, although I prefer not to review those because the sound quality of CDs is better. Sometimes I write and ask for a CD instead, and sometimes they send me one.

These recent CDs that showed up in my mailbox all provide opportunities to hear music outside of standard concert fare. This is all the more welcome as the past year has shown even more clearly than usual how much of the music on offer is the same from concert to concert, place to place, year to year. These discs contain music that is definitely not standard concert fare, and they are recommended to help widen your horizons. 

"A Quiet Madness" (Belarca records belarca-008) features music by composer William Susman (b. 1960). In addition to composing for concert and film, Susman heads the New York-based contemporary ensemble OCTET and Belarca Records. 

His music has the characteristics of post-20th-century minimalism-a term he apparently accepts, since it appears in the liner notes for the CD. It is generally characterized by sections of unchanging textures with shifting harmonies. Endings of sections and pieces are not preceded by any recognizable cadential momentum; they just stop, as if to say, "And that's all I have to say on that subject."

The CD has six tracks, opening with "Aria," performed by Susman on piano with violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, who is known in Boulder as festival artist and principal second violin with Mahlerfest. Tracks 2, 4 and 6 are titled "Quiet Rhythms" nos. 1, 5 and 7, solo piano pieces played by Francesco Di Fiore. Filling the other slots are "Seven Scenes for Four Flutes," all parts performed with apparently effortless cohesion by Patricia Zuber (Track 3); and "Zydeco Madness," performed on accordion by Stas Venglevski.

In "Aria," Pollick soars sweetly above a murmuring piano accompaniment for long passages broken by occasional spells of pizzicato and rhythmic double stops. The music moves organically through several sections that are unified by a mood of calm continuity At the end, the violin's long descending scales build in intensity and weight. Not exactly purposeful, this is music of sustained grace and tranquility.

The three "Quiet Rhythms" convey the essence of Susman's style. Each is in two sections separated by a sudden stop and instant of silence. While the rhythmic motion and mood of each section is distinct, they all convey a sense of a boundless vista, suddenly interrupted.

With a sense of nervous energy, "Zydeco Madness" stands apart from the others. The rate of change is faster, creating an impression of a series of studies in accordion techniques. Characteristic textures are animated by cheerful syncopations, creating the mood of zydeco if not the sound. 

All performances are exemplary, within the relatively narrow palette of emotions and musical impulses Susman requires. This is not a recording that will quicken your pulse, but in these days it is a welcome break from the tensions and stresses of our daily lives, a musical environment that you can sink comfortably into.

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