The Leader and other works is a new record of music by Karim Al-Zand. The most substantial piece is the one act chamber opera The Leader based on Ionesco’s 1955 play Le Maître. A reporter and two devoted fans follow the Leader wherever he goes mesmerised by his often absurd antics. A young couple is gradually drawn into the fascination.
The Leader does ridiculous things. he dances with a hedgehog. He has his trousers pressed in public. Finally it’s revealed that he no head. Instead he has “genius”. None of this shakes the loyalty of his followers. One imagines that Ionesco had the European dictators of the 1930s in mind but, of course, one can substitute whichever half absurd, half sinister populist neo-Fascist one chooses.
Musically it’s tonal, tuneful, playful and a little bit silly as one would expect. It’s convincingly performed by Mark Diamond and Aidan Smerud, baritones, Megan Berti, mezzo-soprano, Zach Averyt, tenor, and Lindsay Russsel Bowden, soprano. There’s an 11 piece chamber orchestra and it’s all conducted by Eiki Isomura. It makes for an undemandingly enjoyable half hour or so.
The other vocal piece on the record is Songs from the Post-Truth Era. This is scored for soprano and bassoon! The text is a didactic children’s poem; “Incorrect Speaking” from Charles Lamb’s 1809 collection Poems for Children. At least the first part is. There are two more “verses” in which Lamb’s text is deconstructed and re-arranged to create new and/or ambiguous meanings. As the text gets more disjointed and confusing the vocal demands get less and less orthodox. It’s six minutes of playful fun skilfully performed by Alexandra Smither and Ben Roidl-Ward.
There’s instrumental music too. Six Bagatelles for piano, violin and cello is inspired by abstract paintings by Robert Motherwell. Each is quite distinct in mood though the musical language remains essentially tonal. Capriccio #5 and #6 for violin are contrasted pieces. The first is lyrical while the second has much more attack and is quite abrasive and busy. Performed by Sonja Harasim and Matthew J. Detrick respectively. Finally Stomping Grounds consists of four short pieces for piano, violin and clarinet each based on a “ground” or repeating rhythmic idea. Performed here by Michael Clark, piano; Sam Park, violin; Thomas Frey, clarinet.
The recordings were made at various locations in Houston TX between 2018 and 2021. They are admirably clear and vivid. It’s a digital only release available in MP3 or 24 bit/48kHz WAV formats or on various streaming services. Extensive documentation is available on line.
Catalogue number: Navona Records NV6469