ASCEND, the latest collaboration between PARMA Recordings and the Society of Composes, Inc., is an enthralling showcase of leading composers and performers from around the world. Featuring fantastic ensembles, and with works that reference far-flung locations and historical events, this album journeys fascinatingly through time and space as it compiles a competitively selected sample of today’s best compositions.
One of the joys of ASCEND is the variety, which emerges from the album’s aim to include the music of as many composers as possible. Listeners can look forward to a range of vocal and instrumental chamber works featuring instrumentations from solo clarinet to a large ensemble of strings, piano, and solo oboe. And, even though ASCEND is a showcase of composers, the album’s performances are spectacular, and feature some of the world’s leading soloists and ensembles; namely, the famed JACK Quartet, which is broadly considered one of, if not, the best string quartets with a contemporary music focus in the United States. Renowned for their joyous embrace of the most intense aspects of avant garde aesthetics, the work JACK performs – Joungmin Lee’s Vexatious – is one of the most vibrant on the album. Thriving at the extremities of the string quartet’s sonic language, Vexatious is a visceral and dramatic composition given an outstanding and astounding performance on ASCEND.
Other remarkable works include Patrick Houlahin’s Snoqualmie Passages, for piano and alto saxophone, Paul SanGregory’s Shining Through Cracks, for oboe and ensemble, and Aaron Alon’s stunning art song, Dulce Et Decorum Est. All three share tremendous melodic writing and storytelling through the conversation of melody and accompaniment. Certainly, this characteristic comes across most clearly and compellingly in Alon’s Dulce Et Decorum Est, a setting of Wilfred Owen's poem of the same name illustrating the attrition and terrors faced by infantry in World War One. Scored for baritone and string quartet, Alon’s music is both heartbreakingly beautiful and intensely variegated, conveying the gritty detail of the text along with the innocence and sentimentality of the soldiers it depicts, men who left home with the hope of seizing glory only to find the filth and horror of trench warfare.