Where the Wood Thrush Forever Sings, Book 1: American Fish Crow
Where the Wood Thrush Forever Sings, Book 2: Great Horned Owl
Where the Wood Thrush Forever Sings, Book 3: Blue Jay
Read the Review
When one walks every morning through wooded areas, one hears the seasons changing in the calls of birds. Spring is as raucous as winter is silent, a muted summer leads to the random cries of migration in fall. One is hardly likely to find this strange chorale upsetting unless one suffers hypersensitivity to sound, as some poor souls no doubt do.
Composer Edward Cowie has found the alchemical formula for transmuting various bird cries into duets for clarinet and piano. Played mellifluously on E-flat and B-flat clarinet by Anna Hashimoto, with Roderick Chadwick at the keyboard, this group of four “songbooks” are a series of short explorations of various birds’ musical identities. Hashimoto manages the higher register with accuracy that is sometimes piercing yet never shrill. Chadwick is sure-handed with the understated piano writing. Cowie’s harmonic language is both new and sometimes familiar.
Birds and their environment have inspired composers before now, of course. Beethoven wrote a quartet of characters into the coda of the second movement of his Sixth Symphony, giving the poor clarinetist the role of Cuckoo (which some might find quite appropriate). Olivier Messiaen was noted for his sometimes-verbatim quotes from the aviary, and his Abyss of the Birds is a tour-de-force for solo clarinet. Cowie’s settings do more than quote the melodic arc of any of the 24 birds represented here, but they are meticulously researched, as his field notes in the accompanying booklet indicate. This is his third collection, focused on North American species. Divided over two discs, six species per “book,” the tracks range between two and six minutes. I can’t decide whether it’s better to know which bird is singing as the disc plays or to simply enjoy the walk while trying to guess.