The music of distinguished American composer Charles Wuorinen is notable for its compositional wit, dynamic virtuosity and intellectual rigor. This CD features vocal chamber works from the late 1990s to 2007, a new piano work, and Wuorinen’s ‘remakings’ of music by Josquin des Prés. Ashberyana, a major new work commissioned by Da Camera of Houston, sets the dazzling poetry of John Ashbery for a tour-deforce ensemble led by the composer. Fenton Songs I and Fenton Songs II offer contrasting poems by James Fenton, ranging from lyrical confessions of love to the horrors of Tiananmen Square. Two personal solo piano pieces – one dedicated to conductor James Levine – and Josquiniana, composed for the Brentano Quartet, complete this compelling portrait of one of today’s most important musical voices.


“Once upon a time, not so very long ago, to write serious music was to write serial music or, at the very least, very dissonant music with few if any tonal references. Anything else was trite. Then, a few decades ago, along came minimalism and neo-romanticism, and serial music quickly became a thing of the past. Not so for a few composers, like Charles Wuorinen…is a marvelous composer. It is a remarkable achievement when music as abstract as this can grab and not let go of the listener’s attention. …Ashberyana (2004) is scored for solo baritone with trombone, string quartet, and piano. At 18 minutes and in four movements, it is a striking work, and it is given a superb reading by baritone Leon Williams, trombonist James Pugh, pianist Sarah Rosenberg, and the Brentano Quartet. …Lucy Shelton is one of the world’s best new-music vocalists, and she handles Wuorinen’s thorny, queasy, weird melodies expertly in two sets of Fenton Songs, composed in 1997 and 2002 and based on poetry by James Fenton. She is ably accompanied in both sets by Brentano Quartet violinist Mark Steinberg and violist Nina Maria Lee, and by pianist Alan Feinberg in set II. The album ends with arrangements of vocal works by Josquin des Pres. It is a remarkable giant step back in time, and in some ways Josquin’s music is as strange as Wuorinen’s when compared with what seems natural to our ears. In the arrangements, the pitches are Josquin’s, but some octave doublings and sound effects are Wuorinen’s—so there is no mistaking that it is a contemporary setting. ‘Ave Christe’ (1988) is played reverently yet with energy by pianist Rothenberg, while the six pieces that make up Josquiniana (2002) are given wonderful readings by the Brentano Quartet.”
— American Record Guide