Posts Tagged “Bridge”

Mohammed FairouzCD cover

Sumeida’s Song

The Mimesis Ensemble

Scott Dunn, conductor

Bridge Records

 Cast

  • Mabrouka: Jo Ellen Miller
  • Asakir: Rachel Calloway
  • Sumeida: Robert Mack
  • Alwan: Mischa Bouvier

Sumeida’s Song, Mohammed Fairouz’s first opera, is based on the play Song of Death by Tawfiq al-Hakim. This story of a young man returning home and facing a long-standing family feud was adapted by Fairouz, as well, and the relatively plain language does well at communicating the major plot points. The music is very Stravinskian with punctuated orchestral rhythms, little ostinato figures, and slightly boxy tonal mechanics. The growth of microtonal colors in the third scene, however, is rather refreshing and engaging. I was surprised at the overall lack of ethnic-derived music given that the Egyptian setting and culture are strongly tied to the plot. I’m not asking for cliches or tastelessness, of course, but the relatively unspecific music suggests that the story could be happening anywhere. I suspect that the musical intent might be to make the story more of a generalize parable (since the story of sacrificing oneself for peace is a relatively universal ideal).

While Sumeida is in the title, this opera belongs to Rachel Calloway as Asakir. Present in almost every scene, this opera seems to be so much more about her than the title character but the libretto never really generates any sympathy for her. Calloway’s rich and powerful tone sounds like it has potential for great tenderness and nuance but the tone of this particular character never gets away from “angry evil shrew.” Her character’s edge is always present in her voice, never giving way to softness, and I would have enjoyed hearing Calloway’s dark sound in a more soothing melodic ground.

Overall, the music is a chain of solos with almost no ensemble singing whatsoever. I found most of the melodic lines emotionally flat with few resonating moments. Alwan’s lines “I won’t kill” towards the end of the second scene are punctuated with highly traditional harmonic cadences, for example. The ensuring argument builds up has wild energy and vibrant orchestration, I just find the drama uncompelling. This is always difficult when listening to an opera (instead of seeing it). All the motions that are happening on the stage could do much to heighten the impact.

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Ursula Mamlok: Volume 3


various performers


Bridge Records

  • Five Capriccios for oboe and piano (Heinz Holliger, Anton Kernjak)
  • Stray Birds for soprano, flute, and cello (Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Harvey Sollberger, Fred Sherry)
  • Fantasy-Variations for solo violoncello (Jakob Spahn)
  • Panta Rhei (Time in Flux) for piano trio (Susanne Zapf, Cosima Gerhardt, Heather O’Donnell)
  • Five Bagatelles for clarinet, violin, and cello (Helge Harding, Kirsten Harms, Cosima Gerhardt)
  • String Quartet No. 2 (Sonar String Quartet: Kirsten Harms, Susanne Zapf, Nikolaus Schlierf, Cosima Gerhardt)
  • Confluences for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (Helge Harding, Kirsten Harms, Cosima Gerhardt, Heather O’Donnell)
  • Kontraste for oboe and harp (Heinz Holliger, Ursula Holliger)
This third volume of the music of Ursula Mamlok on Bridge Records is a great snapshot collection of Mamlok’s musical language captured in small chamber ensembles. The earliest pieces on the disc, Stray Birds and Five Capriccios, are fragmented atonal miniatures. Stray Birds (1963), a five movement work setting aphorisms by Rabindranath Tagore, evokes bird sounds in the voice, flute, and cello equally while giving each performer their own unique space. Given the sparse and angular nature of the melodic materials, Phyllis Bryn-Julson’s performance is absolutely stunning (as one might expect). Bryn-Julson connects even the most disjointed pitch sets into a coherent whole. Sollberger and Sherry, two names you can trust to do the same, balance Bryn-Julson perfectly, creating a chamber trio instead of an accompanied voice. Five Capriccios for oboe and piano (1968), are four charming pointillistic gems and one extended lyrical final movement. Holliger, as one has come to expect, navigates each moment with clarity and a subtly nuanced interpretation.
Mamlok’s penchant for collecting many short movements under one roof is a recurring theme of this disc. Oftentimes, as with Fantasy-Variations for solo cello, these shorter movements really catch my ear as part of a single narrative journey. One of my favorite works on the disc, Panta Rhei (Time in Flux) for piano trio, really blurs the lines between movements. The angular and pointillistic gestural trends are still present but in Panta Rhei I hear a slight softening of the pitch language. Dissonances aren’t as harsh, gestures are less frenetic, the piece seems to have a bit more breath and life to it. The trio of Zapf, Gerhardt, and O’Donnell do a wonderful job merging together in a sophistically orchestrated score. The Five Bagatelles for clarinet, violin, and cello are equally well scored and orchestrated and Harding, Harms, and Gerhardt take full advantage of the material. Again on this disc, the ensemble blends extremely well and projects a unified sonic trajectory which is easy to follow. Confluences does the same but with a bit more mystery and fullness to the ensemble sound. The Sonar Quartet’s performance of Mamlok’s String Quartet No. 2 is equal parts playful, tender, and fun. The most recent work on the disc, Kontraste for oboe and harp (2009/2010) is also the most playful (the Humoresque first movement) and spaciously lyrical (Largo e Mesto second movement).

Throughout the disc I hear a lot of similarities to the music of Alban Berg: finely crafted short movements (the oboe capriccios hit me in the same spot as Berg’s clarinet pieces), strong dramatic profiles and gestures (String Quartet No. 2 evokes Berg’s op. 3 in my ears), and atonal pitch constructions which still seem to be rooted in Romanticism somehow (pretty much everything on this disc sounds like that to me). If you, like me, wish that Berg could have composed more before his untimely death, you’ll enjoy Mamlok’s offerings.

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Bitter Music by Harry Partch cd cover

Music of Harry Partch, Volume 1

Bridge Records

performed by John Schneider, Garry Eister, Richard Valitutto, and Paul West

Bridge records is no stranger to “The Music of [insert composer here]” releases and I am glad to see Harry Partch as one of those names being so inserted (alongside Carter, Crumb, Ruders, Lanksy, etc.). Bridge has put out a few discs with Partch’s music already, most featuring the talents of John Schneider, and this audiobook of Bitter Music is a great place to begin the official series. Schneider takes the main narration of Partch’s memoir (labelled as the “Subjective Voice” as opposed to Garry Eister’s “Objective Voice”) and again, due to his involvement in other Partch works on Bridge, brings a consistent sound to Partch’s voice. In addition to reading the journal, each musical idea and composition found in Bitter Music is performed with Schneider on adapted guitar or adapted viola, Richard Valitutto on piano, and Paul West on kithara. The 3 CD set is a compelling listen, full of the interesting stories you’d expect Partch to have during the 1930s and some of his earliest microtonal compositions and etudes. At the end of it, you get a great picture of the evolution of Partch’s language, philosophy, and style. Reading about Partch’s music is fascinating, hearing it is illuminating. This project brings the best of both worlds together. I look forward to their next release in this series.

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