ELECTRO-ACOUSTIC CELLO BOOK. Michael Angell: Sonata (20:14) ~~ James Christensen: Elegiac (5:18) ~~ David W. Hainsworth: Other Worlds (9:15) ~~ Leisha Hultgren & Rusty Banks: One Cry (6:30) ~~ Vivian Adelberg Rudow: With Love (16:11) ~~ Paul Rudy: Parallax 2 “Apparitions” (11:41). Craig Hultgren, cellist. Music from the Setting Century Series, Living Artist Recordings, Vol. 4.

The body of work for cello and tape is not a large one; Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms #3 is easily the best known of such pieces. Southern-based cellist Craig Hultgren is out to change all that. Judging from the liner notes, he has performed and commissioned a number of compositions for this scoring over the past decade, and this release is an ambitious showcase for his efforts.

The best piece on the disc is Michael Angell’s Sonata. This five-part work bears little resemblance to traditional sonatas, being more akin to a character-piece collection. Formal sense in these movements is a bit loose, but the appealing gestural world and kinetic directional thrust are more than enough to sustain interest. In fact, much of the piece exhibits a delightful sense of humor, suggesting a goofy mating of The Residents and Spike Jones; this prevailing mood is leavened a bit by the work’s placidly atmospheric middle movement and following expressive solo cello section. It’s a fine listen.

Paul Rudy’s Parallax 2 “Apparitions” also contains a goodly share of delights. The work sets out to meld its tape and cello parts into a nearly indistinguishable and complementary whole. It succeeds quite well and goes a step further by smoothly playing the two entities off each other in fascinating ways; it kept this listener entertainingly guessing. And, like the Angell, the work makes up for formal shortcomings with an engaging directional sense.

None of the other pieces here are as successful. Except for its conspicuous use of glissandi, David W. Hainsworth’s Other Worlds could be a Davidovsky Synchronism. While well crafted, it is also very derivative. One Cry by Leisha Hultgren and Rusty Banks allows the cellist to make striking, inventive sounds (the instrumental part to this highly improvisatory piece simply asks the performer to play the cello with a feather and a chain), but the abrasive, often monotonous tape accompaniment palls quickly. James Christensen’s Elegiac is bland, shapeless, and ends very arbitrarily. With Love, by Vivian Adelberg Rudow, seems unable to reconcile successfully its split tape tracks (one symbolizing motherhood, the other childless independence, according to the liner notes) either to each other or with the cello part. And the work’s meandering sense of unfolding and rather sentimental ethos are not assets.

Hultgren performs excellently here, shifting from one style to another with chameleon-like ease. He executes special effects with flair and conviction, but unlike some other new music cellists, Hultgren also plays with a fine, full tone and excellent sense of line. And whether the piece in question is strong, mediocre, or poor, he treats it like a masterpiece; his performances kept some of this disc’s weaker entities listenable.

Production values are fine. Sound quality is a little distant, but good.

David Cleary