Fanfare - June/July 2004 by John Story
"Duo Savage is comprised of Susan and Dylan Savage, oboe/English horn and piano/synthesizer respectively. Philip Schroeder (b. 1956) is a professor of composition at henderson State University in Mississippi where presumably he met the Savages, who were both artists in residence there at one time. As the composer notes, all the music heard here is slow, although I question his assertion that this gives the listener time to savor the individual elements of the music. Given the prevailing simplicity of the pieces, in the right mood one could just as validly suggest that the music gives the listener time to think about how many more interesting things he or she could be doing with hour it takes to listen to this. That isn't entirely fair, of course. The music is unfailingly pretty. The opening Bourne by Currents, for example, is a long slow melody played on English horn accompanied by arpeggios in the piano and sustained tones from the synthesizer (pre-recorded). It is very pleasant in a New-Age sort of way, but it rather sounds like Michael Nyman on a sedative.
The piano works are the more successful pieces. The second of the two piano solos, From the Shadows of Angels, is a study in a slow arpeggios and the resulting resonance that is quite lovely. The difficulty, when one reduces the elements of music to a style this spare, is everything must be perfect or the results are just simple minded - the architectural analogy would be the buildings of Mies van der Rohe, where the slightest error in detailing compromises the whole to a degree unimaginable in a more robust aesthetic. Mies's credo, "Less is more," was often answered with "Less is a bore." To a large extent this is what happens here - Schroeder being unable to sustain the sparseness of his conception.
The performances seem fine. The recording of the piano has a bit too much resonance, but the ear soon adjusts."
music of American composer Phillip Schroeder is splendidly performed
on this CD by the excellent Duo Savage, consisting of Susan Savage
(oboe and English horn) and Dylan Savage (piano and synthesiser).
The mellifluous, impressionistic sounds are intended to be listened
to at a leisurely pace, which allows the subtleties of melody, harmony
and timbre to be fully appreciated. This is beautiful, introspective
music, outstandingly performed by artists who worked closely with
the composer to produce an impressive and lucid album."
Wire - by Bill Binkelman
"While this recording is closer in conception and intent to twentieth-century
classical music (both the two performers and the composer are classically
trained and inhabit that world almost exclusively), I decided to
review this because I consider it a superb example of acoustic
minimal music. It belongs alongside other fine minimalist recordings
from ambient artists such as Mychael Danna, Tim Story, James Johnson,
and, of course, Brian Eno. Danna and Story, in particular, are
perfect comparisons because of the presence (on this album) of
English horn and oboe (both those artists have used these or similar
wind instruments on recordings: Skys [Danna, with Tim Clément]
and The Perfect Flaw [Story]. all rivers at once is wonderfully
evocative, and I never tired of listening to its simple yet richly
Duo Savage are Susan Savage (oboe and English horn) and Dylan
Savage (piano and synthesizer). Phillip Schroeder composed the
music. According to the liner notes, Duo Savage worked closely
with him during the recording of this album. Worth mentioning is
that, while synthesizer is listed as one of the instruments, it
only appears on the lovely opening piece, “Borne by Currents” (my
favorite on the CD-it’s almost too beautiful for words). In addition,
that piece and the last one on the recording (“No Longer a Stranger”)
also employ a Digital Delay System “resulting in the repetitions
of sounds at specific intervals after they are initially played…The
frequency of the delays is timed so that the constantly unfolding
live music synchronizes with the music heard through the delay.” (per
the liner notes).
There are five pieces on the album (the third selection has five
time cues, though). As I mentioned above, my favorite one is the
opener, “Borne by Currents,” imbued with a pastoral elegance as
it slowly unwinds through its fourteen minutes. The music is not
sad, but has a strong reflective nature to it. This piece features
English horn, piano, and very subtle synth strings. There is a
flowing quality to the composition that’s almost tangible. “Stillness,” the
next piece, is five minutes of expressive minimal solo piano, in
the same vein as recordings from artists like Carl Witt and Ernesto
Diaz-Infante. Appropriate to the title, Dylan Savage allows the
space between the notes to say as much about the music as the notes
themselves. “Songs Without Words” is the five-part selection, and
features oboe and piano. Each “part” plays slightly different from
the others, such as part three (“To come back again”) which is
somewhat lively (a relative term in this case) versus the dramatic
yet sedate “The course of actions.”
Rounding out the album are a nine minute solo piano piece, “From
the Shadows of Angels” and the oboe, piano, and Digital Delay System-enhanced
ten-minute long “No Longer a Stranger.” The latter has a sparseness
and airiness to it that, for some reason, reminds me of the wide-open
prairie of the Great Plains. I can’t tell you why, but it does.
Maybe it’s the “lightness” of the piano as it flits playfully above
the oboe so that it paints the picture of a bird flying over wheat
fields, dancing on the wind.
I hope some of you die-hard ambient fans reading this review
will open your minds enough to give this CD a try. It’s such lovely
music, so human and full of a sense of beauty and grace. Uncluttered
by unnecessary accouterments, its music stripped of clutter. The
result is sublime and refreshing. My review does not do the composer
or performers justice, but just the same, I wholeheartedly recommend
all rivers at once."
Music & Vision - July 17, 2003
"There is something a little earnest about the extensive details given in the booklet accompanying this CD, especially those on composer and performers: rather like the CV of a keen job applicant. Maybe someone felt the need to impress us with their credentials simply because most of us, at least those living outside Carolina, will probably never have heard of either Phillip Schroeder or Susan and Dylan Savage.
I mention this, not because the music itself bears out its provenance -- a minor, but obviously well-funded American University -- but because I found myself enjoying both music and performance a great deal. What should be made clear at the outset is that, like the West Coast composers -- say Harrison or Hovhaness -- Schroeder is not trying to break new ground. He is happy to explore the possibilities available to him in a strongly melodic tradition, and to give them his own gentle twist, creating expansive lyrical sound-worlds either for solo piano or, most hauntingly, for the contrasting voices of piano and oboe, or cor anglais. In addition, two of the pieces employ a digital delay system, allowing phrases played by the performers to be repeated at specific intervals after they are first heard.
Borne by Currents, the first piece, uses this device and is, essentially, built around a yearning phrase on the cor anglais with accompanying piano arpeggios. It lasts nearly fifteen minutes, yet in no way outstays its welcome. This is reflective, even meditative music, which draws the listener gently in. Songs Without Words, by contrast, is a more astringent piece, making a few more demands, harmonically, on the listener but, as pianist Dylan Savage observes in his notes: 'the use of consonance and dissonance is so skillfully conceived that it easily blurs the distinction between the two ...'
From the Shadows of Angels, for solo piano, dynamically subdued, explores the contrasts between the highest and lowest notes of the instrument, and also between pause and movement, stillness and flurries of notes. No Longer a Stranger returns us to the same territory as where we began, but at the higher pitch and keener timbre of the oboe.
What you will find on this disc is music which makes modest claims for itself, which will certainly inspire no revolutions, but is both accessible and yet grows stronger with repeated listening. The quality of recording is exemplary."
CMS South Central Newsletter
"In all rivers at once, composer Phillip Schroeder presents an hour of very attractive, sensuously appealing music for oboe, English horn, and piano. The five works represented on the disk have in common a rich and open harmonic language based on extended triadic structures with carefully ameliorated dissonance. The resulting harmonic dimensions are spacious and colorful, and exemplify one of the most successful aspects of the composer’s style.
If the five works on this recording are generally representative of Schroeder’s writing, then we may count him among those currently active composers who are seeking a rapprochement with modern audiences by writing in a harmonically accessible musical language. In other respects, however, listeners might find the music more challenging. In four of the works (the exception being Songs Without Words), long caesuras of musical activity separate quite similar musical gestures, enabling the music to unfold at a leisurely pace sometimes verging on stasis. The lack of concise and quickly comprehended musical statements might deter those not willing to adjust their temporal scale.
For instance, in From the Shadows of Angels, one of two works on the CD for solo piano, very quiet and gently swirling arpeggios in the middle register are framed by long sustained tones in very low and very high registers. This basic harmonic/textural idea is sometimes varied or extended, but rarely substantially changed. Incremental alterations to the harmonies of each gesture, subtle changes in rhythmic flow, and an overall increase in the density of musical events are the primary means of musical progression. The culmination of the piece occurs when a repeated C sharp leads into a new harmony played mezzo piano (a remarkably extroverted dynamic level in this context). The piece is framed by the return of the opening material, ultimately stated an octave higher than at its initial appearance. This tripartite structure unfolds over an unhurried span of just over nine minutes.
The other, shorter solo piano work, Stillness, is similarly structured, although here the prevailing texture is built from simultaneously-struck chords, with simple rising arpeggiations providing a textural contrast in the middle section.
Borne by Currents, for English horn, piano and synthesizer, and No Longer a Stranger, for oboe and piano, present a more complex textural space than the relatively austere piano works, partly because the solo wind instrument provides a melodic line absent in the solo piano pieces, and also because both employ a digital delay system that echoes the performers’ live playing at a predetermined time interval. The digital delay is especially effective when utilized with the arpeggio patterns that dominate the piano part, creating successive waves of diminishing ripples underneath the solo part. The solo line in both pieces is constructed from long tones and repeated melodic motives consisting of relatively few notes. Change is incremental, sometimes caused by an evolution of the motives of the solo line, sometimes by the harmonic progression, and occasionally by alterations in the underlying piano textures. As in the solo piano works, dynamic levels are restrained so that each piece progresses according to the slow undulations created by the rising and falling patterns of the piano textures and the broad melodic gestures of the solo line.
In these four works the composer is clearly aiming for an articulation of musical time that stretches the boundaries of much of Western art music. One is reminded of the relative stasis encountered in the early Minimalist works of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, although the absence of a clearly audible process and the quiet rhythmic surface differentiate Schroeder’s approach. “Meditative” is a term that could easily be used to describe the character of these works, although the New Age connotations of that term do a disservice to the subtle care with which the composer handles the ebbs and flows of his material.
Given the systematically unorthodox way in which time is articulated in the previously mentioned works, the five pieces that make up Songs Without Words for oboe and piano are strikingly conventional in this regard. This could be due to their origins as songs for soprano and piano, where perhaps the composer felt that a text setting was not well suited to the extended time fields of his other works. Thus, not only are the pieces much shorter here, more dynamic musical processes also take place: greater variety in accompanying textures, melodic participation in the piano part, stronger dynamic contrasts, greater rhythmic variety, and a clear sense of direction in the phrase structures. Although the level of dissonance is moderately increased in comparison to the other works on the disk, Schroeder’s ear for rich and interesting harmonic combinations remains a constant.
The composer has found twoableinterpreters in oboist Susan Savage and pianist Dylan Savage. Ms. Savage’s rich and nicely modulated tone contribute much to the mood of the two longer works, and her sense of line and shape convincingly convey the more urgent musical message of the Songs Without Words. Mr. Savage balances the need for clarity in accompanying textures with a keen ear for harmonic color, tonal beauty, and supple rhythmic pacing. The solo piano works are likewise beautifully colored and subtly shaped.
Composer Phillip Schroeder displays a distinctive compositional voice in this recording. Patient listeners will be rewarded with an interesting and appealing soundscape."
MusicWeb - by Neil Horner
This disc is the first of a couple of exemplary recitals of Phillip Schroeder's music that have been recently released by New York based Capstone Records. The other, Turning to the Center, focuses on vocal works and is perhaps more traditionally in keeping with the 20th century American outlook on that genre. This one, however, often occupies musical territory more associated with the likes of Harold Budd and the ECM label. That said, the opening of Borne by Currents with its plaintive cor anglais reminded me most of Ingram Marshall's Fog Tropes, yet it soon develops into a beatific Budd-like soundscape, with shimmering piano set against Susan Savage's mellow tones. The piece lasts over fourteen minutes and it is not fanciful to compare the cor anglais sounds with the equivalent saxophone meanderings of Marion Brown or Pharaoh Sanders. Equally, I could imagine John Harle playing this piece with absolute empathy, the echoes of Bryars' The Green Ray (sorry for mentioning it yet again!) are too obvious to ignore. Despite featuring pre-recorded synthesiser and a digital delay system, Borne by Currents is very much a duet, with the cor anglais and piano evoking a benign watercourse idyllically. Not for motorway listening!
Stillness for solo piano is meditative but closer to Howard Skempton than Arvo Pärt. The music is very slow, not much seems to be happening but it is all very gripping in a relaxed sort of way, the silences meaning just as much as the notes. The title really says it all - it makes Satie sound hyperactive and is on a par with Feldman as far as tempi go. Music to fall asleep to, not out of boredom but because it is so peaceful. Lovely! The following series of five Songs Without Words is marginally more energised but the oboe and piano duets are still largely reflective and low key. I have no idea what the individual titles, e.g. Perseverance, To Come Back Again, are references to, but the whole sequence works very well and could almost be British in its mellow pastoralia.
From the Shadows of Angels is another piece for solo piano and again the ambient/chamber jazz parallels are clear. It floats almost breathlessly at times, with a Zen-like simplicity in its repeated scales. I preferred Stillness which seems to say more in half the time but there is no denying the effectiveness of this music in what it sets out to do. The disc closes with another work featuring digital delay, this time alongside oboe and piano. No Longer a Stranger superficially bears some resemblance to the preceding track but the oboe and delay system lift it into a different league. However this is again, to these ears, less inspired than Borne by Currents and its prettiness cannot quite compensate for a less overt direction or focus. This is an interesting disc, the success of which probably depends on the listener's state of mind. What is relaxing to one person may seem soporific to another but this is further evidence of the vibrant and diverse musical activity currently going on in the US. It does, however, perhaps offer too narrow a view of Schroeder's compositional talents to elevate him in the musical public awareness to the level of, say, Michael Torke or Aaron Jay Kernis. A very nice disc nonetheless."