Robert Raines is a lesser-known American composer who writes great music that is always evocative, with elements of jazz, blues, (imo) Stravinskian drive and everything else in between. Raines's is an original voice, these are just reference points needless to say. The main attraction on this disc is the full ballet score "The Return of Odysseus", which is an exciting journey full of many contrasting moods; it ties as my favorite work along with the "Trio for Flute, Clarinet and Piano" fittingly titled "Ménage" (one might notice that it's a 3 movement work as well, each of them lasting 3 minutes..) which reminds me (a bit) of Poulenc whose chamber music I just adore.
Raised in New York City's Greenwich Village by parents who were active in the arts, American composer Robert Raines was immersed in music, theater, literature, and the visual arts from an early age. He attended the High School of Art and Design, one of the city's specialized schools for the arts. He went on to receive a Bachelors of Music, in composition and electronic music, from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, his Master of Music in composition from the Shenandoah Conservatory, and his Doctor of Music in composition from the Florida State University. Parallel careers in music and visual arts followed his early education. His experience includes working for a number of years as a guitarist and composer in New York City, during which time he produced and performed on many recordings and performances of jazz, blues and popular music. He has also composed a sizeable body of art music and electronic compositions, and has toured the United States and Europe. During the same period, he achieved professional success in his career as a visual artist, including executive positions at AOL and Time Magazine.
"Echoes of Sarah" was composed in 2007 and dedicated to the memory of a fellow musician and friend who died before her time of a rare blood disease. Performed by nine flutists (one piccolo, 5 standard flutes, 2 altos and one bass), the texture is deliberately intricate as the composer explores extremes of range, tone, texture, and tempo, beginning and ending with dense vertical clusters. But something else is going on here. Though Raines provides no program, the course of this 11-minute work seems to parallel that of a human life: tentative reaching-out in exploration at the beginning, followed by struggle, conflict, and gratifying moments of triumph such as we all have, then frantically increasing tempi and a sense of urgency, as of someone keenly aware of the terrible brevity of life. Next we have an eerie section in which we hear only the sounds of labored suspiration (probably the result of the performers blowing streams of air without pressing the keys), and then a final brief flourish of tone clusters at the end.
"Ménage" (2005), a Trio in three movements for Flute, Piano and Bass Clarinet, explores the relationships between these three instruments, each with its own distinctive timbre, in solo, duet and trio settings. But again, though Raines is quite explicit that the work is abstract and non-programmatic, the music explores a range of emotions: love and hate, sadness and joy, conflict and its resolution. The movements are marked only l, ll, and lll, but seem to correspond to a traditional fast-slow-fast pattern. This is a truly delightful chamber work.
"The Return of Ulysses" (2007), is 30-minute ballet in three acts and seven scenes based on Homer's Odyssey. The outline is as follows: Act I: Athena Visits Athens; Dance of the Suitors. Act ll: The Cyclops; The Sirens; The Kingdom of the Dead. Act lll: The Return of Odysseus; The Rooted Bed. The writing is expressive and dramatic, showing Raines's well developed instinct for using the right instrumental combination at the right moment. The Suitors, spoilers of Odysseus' wealth who dishonor his wife Penelope by their unwelcome presence and importunate demands that she marry one of them, are subtly characterized by music that illustrates their arrogance and excess. The Cyclops builds in mystery and intensity, making highly effective use of the brass at the climactic moment. The denizens of The Kingdom of the Dead are more than just pitiable shades: being dead, they are envious of the living and desirous of imprisoning them in their own realm; Raines's robust orchestration gives them a palpable enough presence to be really menacing to his hero. The Return of Odysseus is climaxed by a truly thrilling description of the battle in which the hero slays the Suitors; the music ranges back and forth as in a real battle, with sensationally scintillating writing for the strings. The Rooted Bed concludes the story: Penelope is able to satisfy Odysseus' doubts as to her fidelity by answering his query: 'Who has moved my bed?' The bed, which was the marriage bed of Penelope and Odysseus, cannot be moved any more than the perfect union of man and woman can be shaken, for its frame is the trunk of a massive tree, its bedposts the branches.