Judith’s Saga

judith_sHubert Parry’s Judith has been making something of a comeback.  A new performing edition by Professor Stephanie Martin was performed at Koerner Hall by the Pax Christi Chorale in May 2015.  That seems to have sparked some interest since the piece was transplanted to the Royal Festival Hall in London in April 2019 where rather larger forces presented the piece to generally good reviews.  Subsequently the same forces mad a studio recording which has just been released as a hybrid SACD/CD release.  If you want to know more googling “Parry Judith” will bring up a small library of articles on the “Judith Project” and how this piece has been unfairly neglected.

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The Diary of One Who Disappeared

Janacek - Diary CDPavol Breslik headlines on a new recording of Janáček’s Diary of One Who Disappeared; a song cycle about a young man who runs off with a gyosy girl.  The piece is given in its original arrangement which, besides tenor and piano, features a mezzo in several of the songs and a brief appearance by a three member female chorus.  No doubt this is one reason it’s performed less often than it might be.  Breslik is pretty much ideal for this music.  Obviosly he’s completely at home in Czech and he sings with clear articulation and has a rather beautiful instrument.  He’s well supported by Robert Pechanec on piano plus mezzo Ester Pavlu; who has quite a bright sound for a mezzo but works well enough with Breslik.  Dominika Hanko, Zuzanka Marczelová and Mária Kovács make up the chorus.

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The Panther

first light - front coverI’m intensely interested in the different approaches that composers take to setting text so I was intrigued to read the blurb on a new CD release by American composer Jackson Greenberg.  The text is Rilke’s Der Panther and the approach is to take an old (anonymous) recording of an actor reading the poem and provide an orchestral accompaniment for it.  It’s quite short; just shy of eight minutes, and the music is an atmospheric variant on largely tonal minimalism.  It’s not a big surprise to discover the composer works mainly in film and TV.  It’s unusual and worth a listen.

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Odysseus and the Sorceress

odysseusThis is a really unusual CD.  It combines readings; both in the original Greek and in English translation of some of the best known passages in Homer’s Odyssey with music for period instruments composed by Rachel Stott.

The short passages of Greek are read by Maria Telnikoff and the more extensive English sections by Abe Buckoke in a variety of accents, most of which are hard to place.  Somemartin,crockett,, of the text is accompanied by a combo of renaissance flute, alto sackbut, viola damore and aeolian harp.

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Autumn Winds

oriordan517x517_2x.jpgAutumn Winds is a new CD of vocal and chamber music by American composer Kirk O’Riordan.  Much of the music is unashamedly beautiful but it doesn’t sound in the least retro.  It’s a long way from the neo-Broadway style that drives me nuts.

The first piece is Four Beautiful Songs for soprano, piano and viola.  There’s both an ethereal beauty and a driving, rhythmic, sometimes jazzy, quality to the piano part adding energy to the lyrical text setting and equally lyrical viola part.  It suits Ann Moss’ light, bright voice and the playing from pianist Holly Roadfeldt and Peter Dutilly on viola is lovely.

Prayer Stones, for piano and viola, is meditative and very beautiful piece.  Again very nicely played. Continue reading

No monument stands over Babi Yar

CSOR 901 1901.201912110227452020 started with news of yet another anti-semitic atrocity in the United States.  My musical 2020 started with a new recording of that finest of all musical acts of resistance to anti-semitism, Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 13 in B-Flat minor “Babi Yar”.  It’s a setting of poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko for orchestra, bass soloist and men’s chorus and it’s powerful stuff.  It’s often performed at consistently high energy and volume and seething with anger.  Riccardo Muti treats it rather differently.  The recording, featuring bass Alexey Tikhomirov, the Chicago Symphony and the men of their chorus, doesn’t lack drama or intensity but it’s also often intensely lyrical.  When require, Tikhomirov and the chorus produce some gorgeously beautiful, even delicate, singing and the orchestra do the same.  There’s not much of the blaring brass one associates with the Leningrad recordings of the Shostakovich symphonies.  Instead there’s some wonderful playing, especially by the low brass.  The motif in the fourth movement, curiously reminiscent of the Fafner scene in Siegfried, features a sort of duet between tuba(?) and timpani to great effect.  This is very fine music making.

The recording, on the CSO’s Resound label, is exemplary.  The textures are crystal clear and the overall ambience feels like a proper symphony hall.  This is the memorial for Babi Yar.

…let me explain

letmeexplain…let me explain is a new CD of Canadian art song (mostly) from soprano Christina Raphaëlle Haldane.  The first set consists of three arrangements of Acadian folk songs by by Carl Philippe Gionet.  The three are quite different.  L’Escaouette is fast, high, rhythmic and very high energy.  Tout Passe is much more elegiacal while Wing Tra La is very playful.  They are sung quite beautifully with piano accompaniment from the arranger.  Ahania’s Lament is a longish piece in which Blake’s text is set by Samy Mousa.  It’s a tough sing with a lot of high exposed passages against a minimal accompaniment.  It’s a piece that it’s easy to get drawn into.  It’s a good vehicle for Haldane’s crystalline upper register.  Piano accompaniment by M.Gionet again.

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