Independent Weekly ~ April 21-27, 2004 ~ www.indyweek.com
Best Bets for the week of April 21-27, 2004, edited by Kirk Ross
Carrboro pianist Greg McCallum may be better known for his spirited interpretations of more traditional classical works, but for years the Lumberton native has had a burning desire to make a record true to his roots. His new CD – Southern Quilt – is just that. With compositions that feature elements of blues and gospel and include themes from life in southern mill towns, Quilt is beautiful, intense and intricately woven.
Fanfare ~ November/December 2004
Here's an imaginative recital. All eight works have a common premise: they're all inspired by Southern musical vernacular. But within the conceptual framework, there's tremendous variety, both in the familiarity of the repertoire (which ranges from Gottschalk's ubiquitous The Banjo through Still's moderately well known Summerland on to several works that are probably getting their premiere recordings) and in its idiom (which ranges from the comfortable ragtime gestures of the Mills to the high-energy avant-gardisms of the Rzewski). Then, too, all of the newer music is well worth hearing.
You might at first expect Kenneth Frazelle's Blue Ridge Airs I (based on "melodies that have been passed down for generations") and Julie Harris's American Triptych (based on Old Joe Clark, Hush-A-Bye, and Shortnin' Bread) to represent a kind of post-Copland easy listening. But the Frazelle is, in fact, a misty, improvisatory work in which the eerie harmonies, the shifting textures, and the rhythmic dislocations create a disorienting landscape in which the original tunes are only faintly heard. An while the last movement of the Harris—which would make a fine encore piece on its own—serves the original tune in an immediately recognizable way, the first two movements (strongly influenced, as the notes suggest, by Bartók), engage in radical transformations of their source material.
In this context, McCallum's own Hymn Quilt makes an excellent centerpiece. It begins as a kind of potpourri of hymn tunes presented in various styles representing different church traditions (with some contributions here from bass, percussion, and voices from a number of congregations, mostly located in North Carolina). But toward the end, the congenial tour turns into something more dramatic, even violent, as A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (played with a kind of romantic flamboyance that may bring to mind Liszt's settings in Reminiscences des Huguenots) dukes it out with bursts of competing material that barely identifies itself before disappearing.
...McCallum makes strong claims for the music, showing himself to be equally adept in the sweet lushness of the Still and in the mechanistic drive of the Rzewski. The sound is good, and the booklet offers extremely thorough notes and an excellent collection of vintage photographs, too. All in all, warmly recommended.
Peter J. Rabinowitz