Sunday 25 November 2012

CD Review - The Last Musician of Ur

Michael Mauldin - The Last Musician of Ur
In 2003 the Gold Lyre of Ur was damages by looters at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. The Lyre is the earliest stringed instrument ever found. In 2004 harpist Andrew Lowings began a project to build an authentic playable reproduction of the lyre. He asked composer Michael Mauldin if he could use some of Mauldin's harp music to help promote the project. This collaboration was to grow, in 2009, into a commission for an orchestral piece with prominent harp part, telling the story of the Last Musician of Ur.

In 1929 archaeologists discovered graves from 4,500 years ago that appeared to be a mass suicide. In the corner of the room were the remains of the Gold Lyre of Ur, the arms of someone presumably its last player, draped over it.

Mauldin's orchestral piece was intended by Andrew Lowings as a gift to an orchestra in Iraq but it became apparent that conditions in the country meant that they would not be able to play it, so this recording was organised. It is basically and EP, with just the Last Musician of Ur on it.

Composer Michael Maultin was born in Texas but has lived in New Mexico since the 1970's. His involvement with the power and beauty of the New Mexico desert perhaps would to to qualify him to have sympathy with a work set in the Iraqi desert.

The Gold Lyre of Ur
The Gold Lyre of Ur
The work tells a clear narrative story, a thriving growing ancient desert civilisation, there is a great threat. A haunting melody is taken up by the harp, other instruments fade away and eventually leave the harpist alone. The work ends with an opening of light and new possibilities.

The closing sections include references to the oldest known piece of written music which Mauldin included, in Anne Kilmer's transcription, at a late stage of the composition process. Mauldin found that the new music fitted with his existing conception in a way that was spooky.

The result is evocative and richly orchestrated. There are lots of exotic touches to the harmony which evoke distant climes. The balance with the harp at the opening left me wondering whether a little technological help had been applied. But the way the instrument is spotlit, but wanders in an out of focus is quite magical, as is the passage where the instruments drop away. Overall the piece has a rather mid-20th century feel, with hints  of French influence, and a distinctly Respighian element to the orchestration.

The performance from Petr Vlonsky and the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra is exemplary.  I do hope that the piece eventually finds its home in Iraq, but in the meantime this recording is an admirable testament.

Michael MAULDIN (born 1947) - The Last Musician of Ur [6.58]
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra
Petr Vronsky (conductor)

Recorded Feb 29, 2012 at Reduta Hall, Olomuc, Czech Republic

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  1. Thanks, Robert, for your reaction to the piece and the recording. I just heard from Karim Wasfi, conductor of the Iraqi National Symphony, that he's in the USA for a while, and he might premiere the piece with an orchestra here. Things are unstable in Iraq, so it may be a while before he can conduct it with the group for which it was written.

  2. Great news that Karim might get to premiere the piece, even if not with the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra


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