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Classical Lost And Found: Lawrence Dillon's Flights of Fancy

Lawrence Dillon's String Quartets have names like "Air," "Flight" and "The Infinite Sphere."
Douglas Holley
Bridge Records
Lawrence Dillon's String Quartets have names like "Air," "Flight" and "The Infinite Sphere."

This new release from Bridge Records rates three gold stars for content, performance and sound. It features rewarding chamber music by American composer Lawrence Dillon (b. 1959) that has both emotional and intellectual dimensions.

French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, "Nature is an infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere." That was Dillon's inspiration for his fourth string quartet (2009). Accordingly named "The Infinite Sphere," he uses the round and rondo formulas to create a convoluted musical fantasy in which the four instruments whirl and whir around one another.

His single movement String Quartet No. 3, "Air" (2005), pays homage to the repeating nature of the Italian da capo aria, combined with a rather grief-stricken aria of his own device. The quartet has an appealing palindromic symmetry about it where the beginning mirrors the end.

The word "fugue" is derived from fuga, which in Italian means "flight." So it's not surprising Dillon chose fugal devices as the basis for his String Quartet No. 2, subtitled "Flight" (2002). Each of its six movements is named after aspects of flying.

The first fugue captures the mechanics of birds launching into air and the gracefulness of soaring. It's followed by "Insects and Paper Airplanes" — a "humstinger" of a fugue you might say — with outer sections that buzz and a central section that glides. You can hear Dillon's pesky mosquitoes (or whatever they are) swatted in the end.

/ Bridge Records
Bridge Records

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"Stars" is a gorgeous nocturnal fugue, a contemplation of those heavenly bodies circling Polaris, while "Langley" depicts one of man's early humorous attempts to fly. The pendular "Swings" ponders playgrounds and the innocent dreams of children. And "Daedalus and Icarus" is an austere double fugue honoring those mythological Greek pioneers of aviation. The tragic final coda reflects the destruction visited on mankind by war planes.

The disc closes with Dillon's three-movement piano quartet dubbed "What Happened" (2005). The mysterious first movement is followed by a hymn-like second and virtuosic third. The latter has a twitchy Shostakovich feel and ends "in medias res," leaving the listener wondering ... "What happened?"

Dillon couldn't have better advocates than the Daedalus Quartet. With technical ability to burn, its members enthusiastically articulate these ingeniously quirky scores.

Bob McQuiston revels in under-the-radar repertoire at his web site Classical Lost and Found.

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Bob McQuiston