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On Safari
James Naigus: Journey’s Call – Reverie
Michael Daugherty: Prayer
Mark Schultz: Uneven Ground (a short walk on safari)
Paul Basler: Majaliwa “God willing, we will meet again”
Luis Szaran: Rastros - Por Los Senderos del Chaco
Laurence Lowe: The Hunt
Maureen Young: Improvisation

MirrorImage horn duo (Lisa Bontrager, Michelle Stebleton), Tomoko Kanamaru (piano), Lisa Bontrager (soprano chimp), Richard Price (bass chimp), Jaren Angud (hand drum)
Recording: Esber Recital Hall, Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania (May 20-23, 2014) – 60’09
MSR Classics #MS1528 – Booklet in English

The concept, to be sure, is an appealing, cutely clever one – a collection of new or recent music evoking the outdoors, animals, adventurous journeys, and more: “MirrorImage Goes Wild”, proclaims the CD cover. The music, from a collection of current and recent American composers, is competently realized and often ingratiating. However after a while, and even with different composers coming and going, a certain sameness sets in. There’s little structure to any of the works, and it sounds much more like music for movies or television, or perhaps a dance score.

In particular, Luis Szaran’s Rastros - Por Los Senderos del Chaco, could be a wondrous ballet with its parade of chirping animals, including an effeminately prancing armadillo. Similarly, there is genuine drama in Laurence Lowe’s The Hunt, in which a hand drum flourish for the opening "Prelude" signals waiting adventure which soon occurs in the "Chase”, with its Prokofiev-like start leading to a kind of pastoral idyll suggesting an Arcadian stream. The final movement, the “Aftermath”, is mainly nervous bluster which might be described as ‘Aaron Copland berserk.’

Overall, the music on this CD has a decidedly mid-20th century American feel with even occasional touches of atonality. James Naigus’ Journey’s Call is a kind of relaxed summons, then Mark Schultz’s Uneven Ground begins with a luxuriant piano introduction (beautifully played by Tomoko Kanamaru on a gorgeous American Steinway with trademark ultra-rich bass that serves the CD’s music especially well) then continues with a folksy melody redolent of Stephen Foster, followed by strains of earlier American jazz and a “Chimpanzee interlude” which may be the disc’s highlight.

The mellow, sometimes wistful mood continues with Paul Basler’s prayer-like Majaliwa, James Naigus’ Reverie, and Maureen Young’s closing work (billed as an encore), Improvisation, characterized by an ominous mood with one of the horns playing in such low register it might be mistaken for a bassoon.

The performances certainly are excellent, especially Ms. Kanamaru on piano. Lisa Bontrager and Michelle Stebleton, MirrorImage’s horn players also play well, though I was surprised by sporadic intonation and entrance unison problems which could have been easily fixed in post-production (or, re-recording.)

Overall, On Safari at best is an ingenious recording which should entertain many listeners and could definitely be of interest to film and television producers seeking interesting scores for their work.

Charles Pope Jr.




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