Composer: Gregg Smith
Text: Frank O’Hara
Soprano: Rosalind Rees
This tenth installment in David Starobin’s decades-long New Music With Guitar series, looks back to Smith’s settings of O’Hara’s poetry (1964, from Lunch Books) and immediately reminds one and all that deft lyrics and impressive artistry have as much to say now as then.
It’s a homage to leading ladies (Ginger Rogers, Lana Turner, Greta Garbo) recent (back then) history (preferring V-days over D-days) and belated gay rights.
Rees’ deliberately saucy declamations—replete with many slides and numerous line repeats—is masterfully underscored by Starobin’s clear, sympathetic touch. When it’s his turn to take stage (prior to the two last verses), the mood and texture marvellously slips on its jazz rap/wrap, readily ushering in Rees’ last scattish hurrahs with a wee bit of guitarish percussion.
Variations on a Theme by Carl Nielsen “Underlige Aftenlufte”
Composer: William Bland
Piano: Vassily Primakov
A definite feeling of “entre amis” informs this set of theme and variations—would that Nielsen have been able to hear just what his “Strange and Wondrous Evening Breezes” evolve into in the imaginative hands of Bland.
Lifting off (following the stately theme), the music has a dry conversational tone, is well balanced and finishes with a heroic close. A darker piano and mournful guitar (beautifully voiced) finally yields to hope. Then Primakov captures the ethereal while Starobin’s arid harmonics combine for a singular sonic combination.
Variation IV is a vrai song without words between equal partners and touches of heartfelt dissonances, which are soon dispelled by the rollicking “next step”, itself further calmed by a warm adieu. Next up is an intriguingly thoughtful early question: “Have we run out of consonance?” Happily, the reply, “no”, rings true before the reflective chat bids a reluctant farewell.
Soon the ear revels in an agitated, somewhat jazzy variant over strong pedals, everything building towards an impressive close, then one last hurrah as the coda makes its mark. Wondrous breezes indeed!
Composer: Michael Starobin
Text: Wallace Stevens
Baritone: Patrick Mason
These “Stevens/Seasons” songs are a marvel of delicacy and control. Composed by David’s brother, Michael, one can feel the familial connection from the first measure.
“The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm” is a model of understatement from both artists. Stevens championing the reader is a wonderful notion to those of us who write for others.
With many windswept melismatic moments, “Autumn Refrain” fires on all musical cylinders until “stillness” rules supreme.
Largely accompanied by “percussive” (the wood—not the strings) guitar, “The Snowman” readily chills the air and–chant-like—leads everyone to a divine nothing.
The finale, “Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself” is a sensitive study in contrasts between calm, At the earliest ending of winter and natural agitation: The sun was rising at six.
Three cheers for all concerned for the long overdue release of this 1995 recording!
The Girl From Yerevan
Composer: Paul Chihara
Violin: Movses Pogossian
Viola: Paul Coletti
Here’s a wide-ranging, wonderfully colourful portrait of a “girl” that has touches of the one from Ipanema, shades of Carmen but is undoubtedly her own woman.
Starobin anchors his string colleagues with style and a range of textures that readily reinforces Chihara’s sense of mood and organic growth. The judicious slides (especially from Pogossian) add to the sense of freedom that has few dark moments, rather a far-reaching conversation amongst these three amigos. Near pitch-perfect forays to the upper registers provide still more artful contrast.
When it’s time to dance, the guitar sets the stage rhythmically and percussively as the players readily interweave their lines in an always engaging manner. The strum and “wail” section provides an ideal changeup; some listeners may hear discreet echoes of Rimski-Korsakov’s Scheherazade teasing the melodies—yet another strong woman of the world’s repertoire: classical or jazz!
Moments of joyfully moving as one, produce a compellingly confidant air, before taking a few measures to reflect on the journey.
One last hurrah—fuelled with drama—finds its resolution in a resounding finish to a work that begs the question, “Who was the model?”
Composer: Poul Ruders
Soprano: Camille Zamora
Guitar: Robert Belinić
Violins: Giovanni Andrea Zanon, Jee Yoon Kim
Viola: Thomas Howerton
Cello: Blake Anthony Johnson
Conductor: David Starobin
A mother’s last wish, and key component to the narrative element of Ruders’ opera, The Thirteenth Child, is beautifully rendered by Zamora, whose changes of register are nothing short of exquisite. Belinić binds the slight orchestration together with steadfast calm informing his many rising lines while the strings’ tremelos add the requisite tension until an ethereal finish offers hope to all.
The appetite is whet for the full-course meal. JWR