The middle child is always looking for attention. The middle child flounders between the first born’s responsibility and the last born’s privilege. Every aspect of this CD is bounded by barriers like a lost middle child. Lost composers, lost instrument, and the lost performer, whose bio in the liner notes never got translated into English. And it’s from Korea, a country in the middle between Japan and China, physically and circumstantially.
The composers, Rebecca Clarke and Arnold Bax, both early 20th century Brits, both violists, both forgotten middle children. Forgotten for being conservative Romantic/Impressionists in a time when atonality and experimentalism predominated. Forgotten for being British when the empire’s sun was eclipsed by the rising forces to the West. Their music is curiously similar in flavor. Curiously blending Romantic functional tonality with Impressionistic modalism and hints at modernism. Flashes of glowing originality marbled with rearward facing conservatism make for a listening experience that has you marveling one moment, and longing for another high point in the next. Since both were accomplished violists, the technical skill demanded of the performer is high, and the engaging sounds produced highlight the versatility of the viola.
The instrument, the viola, the lost middle child of the strings. Its warm, woody sound, lost between the vivaciousness of the violin and the ranging depth of the cello, is under appreciated. Lost not for its capabilities, but simply for its position in the orchestra. Every time I hear it solo, I’m reminded of one more middle child, desperately looking for the attention it deserves. This alone gives the album an extra star.
The performer, Steve Lee, who I wish I could give you more biographical details. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. His execution of these compositions is impeccable, and for the listener, that’s all that matters. This multi-lost child, lost instrument, lost recording, lost music, lost country, lost bio, is a hero nonetheless for perseverance in a world unkind to underdogs.
And I’m the privileged lucking one. Lucky for being in a book store in Seoul browsing the CD section dominated by indiscriminate K-Pop pap. I won’t remind you of the not-soon-enough-forgotten hit done by the K-Pop star who’s not good looking, not slim, and not a good dancer, singing about the style of the area of Seoul where this book store just happened to be. And lucky that this was the only CD that stood out, and probably not to be found on the shelves in the States. And good luck finding it anywhere. A cursory search at ArchivMusic comes up with neither Steve Lee, nor the compositions he plays on this recording. Defaulting to that giant online marketplace named after that giant river in South America uncovered more from the composers, but nothing of Lee. This may be available only in Korea or as an obscure import. Worth seeking? You decide. Take a listen to Lee and pianist Jun Cho—
Impetuoso, Sonata for Viola & Piano, Rebecca Clarke
Allegro energico, Sonata for Viola & Piano, Arnold Bax
For all the lost middle children, take a stand, make your mark, and don’t let the ignorance of others, who only recognize the loud & gaudy, diminish your piece of rising ground.
(||) Rating — Music : B- ║ Performance : A ║ Recording : A ║ Steve Lee, British Accent, Stomp Music, 2015