My review of the new Bru-Zane recording of Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable is now up on the Opera Canada website.
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.
Having enjoyed the performance in the Toronto Music Garden of Alec Roth’s Songs in Time of War I downloaded the CD of the original version with violin rather than erhu. There are actually three pieces on the CD. There’s the complete Songs in Time of War with tenor Mark Padmore, guitarist Morgan Szymanski, harpist Alison Nicholls and violinist Philippe Honoré, there are two solo guitar pieces Canción de la Luna and Danza de la Luna (Szymanski) and Padmore and Szymanski collaborating on Chinese Gardens; a setting of four Vikram Seth poems inspired by the Ming dynasty gardens at Suzhou.
Born is the latest album from Philadelphia based choir The Crossing conducted by Donald Nally. There are three pieces on the album. Two works by Michael Gilbertson book end the line up. The first, Born, sets words by Wisława Szymborska translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. It deals in a very allusive way with the relationship between a man and his mother. The music is intricate but still sounds a bit “church choiry” for my taste. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s well crafted and beautifully performed but not really my thing.
A Cup of Sins is a new CD release of works by Iranian-Canadian composer Parisa Sabet. If there’s a unifying theme it’s religious/cultural persecution in Iran and there’s a strong Bahai influence. The six pieces are scored for various combinations of voice, piano and small ensemble and add up to about an hour of very rewarding music.
The first piece, Shurangiz, is a riff on music for the tar (a kind of Iranian lute) and it’s scored for flute, clarinet, piano, violin and cello. It’s an interesting combination of traditional Iranian influences with a nod to Western minimalism. It’s quite meditative in mood. Continue reading
Between Worlds is a collaboration between composer/cellist Margaret Maria and soprano/poet Donna Brown. It uses words and music to explore the tension between Thanatos and Eros via a symbolic journey from Sunset to Sunrise. The piece is in eight movements totalling a little over half an hour of music. The style and technique varies widely. Two poems “Sunrise” and “Sunset” are spoken over a sparse cello commentary. Others are sung but they too vary from a fairly conventional singing style backed up by complex, extended cello technique to a more declamatory style with metronomic accompaniment. To me it felt (in a weird way) “bardic”. By which i mean that the instrument was largely being used to emphasise the text in a way that Homer or the Beowulf poet might have related to. It’s also clearly a very personal statement about art, life and death and one’s reception of it is going to be impacted by how closely one can align with it philosophically.
Technically it’s well recorded (at Raven Street Studios in Ottawa) standard CD quality and comes with full texts and extensive bilingual (English/French) documentation.
Catalogue number: Centrediscs CMCCD 30522
So what do you get when you try to use music to explore The Ultimate Question of Life the Universe and Everything or at least that part of it that deals with epistemology and metaphysics and the relationship between music and text? Maybe you get something like Kate Soper’s The Understanding of All Things which consists of three works separated by two improvisatory passages.
James Kallenbach’s 2017 work Antigone: The Writings of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Movement is a sort of cantata for female voices and cello quartet on the theme of what we must/can do when the diktats of authority clash with what we know to be undeniably just. The piece lasts just over half an hour and intersperses the words of Sophocles’ Antigone with those of Sophie Scholl. It’s tremendously effective and moving. The texts fit seamlessly and the soundscape of female voices (the Lorelei Ensemble collectively and singing various solo parts) and four cellos seems really apt as well as being rather beautiful in a meditative sort of way. Beth Willer conducts
Deutsche Grammophon has just re-released the recital by Bryn Terfel and Llyr Williams that was recorded live at the Verbier Festival in 2011. It’s a generous package. It kicks off with a couple of exquisitely sung Schubert songs which are followed by Schumann’s Liederkreis Op.39. This is gorgeous lieder singing with the voice sounding very fresh, the diction spot on and lovely accompaniment.
After the interval there’s Ibert’s Chansons de Don Quichotte and Quilter’s Three Shakespeare Songs. These too are beautifully done. Then it’s on to the lighter stuff that Bryn always seems to throw in on these occasions and which does help making listening to the recording seem more like being at a live concert. Among other things there’s a lovely Ar Hyd y Nos and The Green Eyed Dragon. You have to admire a singer who can manage four languages with such clarity and feeling and still be personable and funny.
Mr. Emmet Takes a Walk is the latest in the series of rereleases of works by Peter Maxwell Davies performed by the Manchester ensemble Psappha. The work premiered in 2000 and was recorded in 2005 and it’s the composer’s penultimate work for the stage. (FWIW I’ve heard five of PMD’s stage works but never seen one performed).
The libretto, by David Pountney, describes what goes on in Mr. Emmet’s head as he prepares to commit suicide by having a train run over his head. It’s a series of blackly comic episodes including. negotiating a deal with Hungarians in a Japanese hotel, a sinister encounter with a heating engineer, a cabaret act and more. The scenes are interspersed with pre-recorded lists of “things to remember” including “things to dislike” like Americans and New Labour. Like other PMD pieces the instrumentalists are sometimes incorporated i the stage action.