Written entirely by students of Ada's Chickasaw Summer Arts Academy in 2008-09, "Oshtali: Music for String Quartet" is an album of classical arrangements performed by Ethel, an acclaimed, contemporary New York string quartet that's performed and recorded with a bevy of renowned orchestral acts and pop artists.
The 16-song album was recorded at Oklahoma City University's Wanda L. Bass School of Music and released on June 29. Despite the wide range of themes it explores, the disc is remarkably cohesive.
The student composers were all 13-21 years old, but describing the songs as "mature" undercuts the sophistication of the arrangements and the precise nature of the tracks' voicing and instrumentation.
Together, the pieces sound like a movie score, with each of the 16 scenes highlighting specific ideas and instruments as characters.
Joseph Cruise Berry's tense opener, "Fantasia," is frantic with staccato strings bowed with thrilling syncopations, not unlike the manic music that might underscore a Hitchcockian shower scene.
The long string notes in Katelyn Duty's "Here's the Hurt" play with sorrow and loss, but a dizzying loop of melody creeps in from the periphery as a painful reminder that the heartache was unexpected or tragic' or both.
"Innominate," by Johnothan Bomboy, begins with soft pianos and evolves with low chords and string countermelody. Cellos take over the song near the end, and the tempo ticks up and breaks into an almost pop-rock structure.
"Oshtali" is pretty spectacular from a composition standpoint, with flawless performance and production. It's exciting, new and very contemporary, but none of the arrangements' playfulness approaches novelty' a welcome respite from the no-restraint-whatsoever approach laid to tape by many young musicians and songwriters.
"Oshtali: Music for String Quartet" is $18. For more information, visit www.thunderbird-records.com. "Joe Wertz