Rain Worthington hits nostalgic tone on CD Passages Through Time

The CD Passages Through Time paints a portrait of American composer Rain Worthington in eight compositions for strings in various settings. The CD-inlay promises ‘a journey through the currents of Worthington’s musical streams’, that will ‘reveal the primal commonality of our experience of life’. This may explain the title, but the high expectations thus created are not fully met.

As a child Rain Worthington (1949) was captivated by a performance of Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps. She was also attracted by the piano music of Erik Satie, while as she grew older she became interested in music from the Middle East. She travelled through Greece, Turkey and Egypt and elements from their different musical traditions found their way into her compositions. 

Even before she learned to read and write notes, she started writing piano pieces. She played these by heart in the underground venue The Kitchen and the lofts of fellow artists in Soho. Worthington performed with her own bands and gradually taught herself to compose; she considers the New York downtown scene as her conservatory.

Although she shares her background with the renowned composers and musicians of Bang on a Can, she employs a completely different idiom. Worthington’s music lacks the gritty, poppy minimalism so characteristic of the work of her colleagues; nor do we hear any Stravinsky influences. She focuses on conveying emotions and writes in a classical-romantic style, incorporating modal elements that sometimes give her music an exotic touch.

The CD opens with Full Circle for cello and chamber orchestra. An intensely lyrical part by the solo cellist, beautifully played by Petr Nouzovský, is as warmly responded to by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra. The repetitive, folk music-like motifs are reminiscent of gypsy music, including the augmented seconds so typical of this genre.

A Central European sound world also resonates in Balancing on the Edge of Shadows for violin and piano. In this catchy piece, passionate outbursts from the violinist (a flawlessly intonating Audrey Wright) are embedded in sparse, cimbalom-like sounds from the pianist (an alertly responding Yundu Wang).

The bent lines of the strings in Shadows of the Wind for cello and orchestra transport us to an imaginary harem. In Dreaming Through Fog, darkly rumbling piano sounds, string tremolos and a hoarse flute played with Flatterzunge create a mysterious, foggy atmosphere that is torn apart halfway through by powerful percussion.

Worthington’s expressive music indeed evokes universal feelings of melancholy and longing. Individually, the pieces are attractive, but as they all breathe the same atmosphere, this inevitably leads to aural and emotional fatigue.

The eight compositions are perhaps better appreciated when listened to separately rather than successively. But fair is fair: the mostly Eastern European musicians know how to hit their nostalgic intent perfectly.

About Thea Derks

I am a Dutch music journalist, specializing in contemporary music, and a champion of women composers. In 2014 I wrote the biography of Reinbert de Leeuw (3rd edition in 2020) and in 2018 I published ‘Een os op het dak: moderne muziek na 1900 in vogelvlucht’.


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