Thursday, 16 August 2018

if there were water

The Crossing - if there were water - Innova
Gregory W Brown un/bodying/s, Stratis Minakakis Crossings Cycle; The Crossing, Donald Nally; Innove Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 Aug 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Two different, yet challenging contemporary choral pieces in this striking disc from the American choir.

How do you depict in words and in music the destruction of four towns and an entire valley in the name of creating a reservoir which is needed to ensure the survival of other towns. How do you address the ethical question in music? These are issues raised by Gregory W. Brown's 2017 choral work un/bodying/s, a setting of poems by Todd Hearon.

Gregory W. Brown's un/bodying/s is performed alongside Stratis Minakakis' Crossings Cycle from 2015/2017, by the American choir The Crossing, conductor Donald Nally on this disc from Innova.

The Crossing is a Philadelphia-based professional choir which was founded in 2005 and has made a name for itself in new music. On this disc they pair two 21st century works linked together by the idea of water.

Brown's piece is a choral suite, four movements The Meeting of the Waters, The Valley of Lost Names, Questions for a Disincorporation/Atlantis and Poem with Any End. The first movement, The Meeting of the Waters, sets Hearon's poem which considers the waters themselves, covering the land, but Brown's music is anything but tranquil. His style is largely tonal, but here he writes complex quasi polyphony into which he folds, references to the lost civilisations, fragments of melodies and shape-note tunes. The result is a sequence of changing evocative textures creating a sense, pell mell, of the changes which the area has undergone.

The body of water in question is the Quabbin Reservoir in the former Swift River Valley of Western Massachussetts, which was created in 1938.

For the second movement, The Valley of Lost Names, is a more contemplative piece in which Hearon's text considers the detritus left behind, echoes of former lives. This starts as a beautifully creafted part-song with luminous harmonies, developing more complex textures. Brown structures the music for the text, so the result is fluid and free. The third movement, Questions for a Disincorporation/Atlantis thinks about more metaphysical and ethical issues. Brown's music starts rhythmic and intense, flowing with the verse in almost recitative-like texture and again we have fragments of past musics folded in, echoes of the lost past. Yet, for all the melodic fragments that Brown uses, the music become quite dark towards the end. The final movement, Poem with Any End is a consideration of what happens to the displaced people, here moved to Boston, the City on a Hill. This is a more concentrated, yet intense movement with spare harmonies, and even here we have shape-note fragments, echoes of the lost past concealed by the waters.

un/bodying/s is a fascinating piece, a large scale challenge for the choir to bring off in terms of both scale, complexity and the sheer eclectic diversity of Brown's musical language. Under the direction of Donald Nally, the Crossing bring the work off brilliantly.

The disc opens with a challenge of a very different type. Stratis Minakakis' Crossings Cycle is a set of short movements setting epigrams, both in the original Greek and texts from T.S.Eliot's The Waste Land. These are intense pieces, quite concentrated with spare textures. And it is texture that Minakakis is interested in. The writing uses a wide variety of challenging unpitched vocal techniques, and the resulting collages vary from the quietly intense to the vibrant. The Crossing make this piece a real choral tour-de force.

Stratis Minakakis - Crossings Cycle
Gregory W Brown - un/bodying/s
The Crossing
Donald Nally (conductor)
Recorded 20 & 23 June 2017 in St David's Episcopal Church, Wayne, Pennsylvania
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Bayreuth’s new production of Lohengrin has taken the Green Hill by storm (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Exploring advanced techniques: flautist Sara Minelli's New Resonances (★★★)   - CD review
  • Leaving on a high: final revival of Jan Philipp Gloger's production of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer at the Bayreuth Festival  (★★★★★)  - Opera review
  • Prom 42: the first Estonian orchestra at the Proms - Paavo Järvi and the Estonian Festival Orchestra (★★★★½)  - concert review
  • A strong message on anti-semitism: Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Bayreuth Festival  (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Edward Lambert's new Lorca-inspired chamber opera at Tête à Tête (★★½)  - Opera review
  • Still relevant & still controversial: Alex Mills' Dear Marie Stopes at the Wellcome Collection (★★★★½)  - Opera review
  • Politics, music and tonality: Keith Burstein and The Prometheus Revolution - interview
  • Small scale challenge: studio performance of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor from Fulham Opera (★★★½)  - opera review
  • Calen-O: songs from the North of Ireland from Carolyn Dobbin & Iain Burnside (★★★★½) - CD review
  • Prom 34: rare Barber & Copland in Juanjo Mena's leave-taking at the BBC Proms (★★★★) - concert review
  • Musical memoir: Tom Smail's Blue Electric at Tête à Tête  (★★★) - opera review
  • An uneasy mix: politics, spirituality and melody in Keith Burstein's new opera at Grimeborn  (★★★) - opera review
  • Home

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