Record companies, artists and publicists are invited to submit CDs to be considered for review. Send to: Jerry Bowles, Editor, Sequenza 21, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019

Latest Posts

Ernst Pepping and Allan Pettersson: Moral Dilemmas in Symphonic Music
"The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and... "
Tell the Birds
Soundtrack to an Apocalypse
Feast Your Ears: New Music for Piano
Gone For Foreign
Fred Lerdahl: Time After Time
Nothing Sacred
Two From Wayne Horvitz
Two Fresh Cantaloupes

Record companies, artists and publicists are invited to submit CDs to be considered for our Editor's Pick's of the month. Send to: Jerry Bowles, Editor, Sequenza 21, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019

Saturday, December 18, 2004 Saturday, December 25, 2004 Friday, December 31, 2004 Wednesday, January 05, 2005 Monday, January 10, 2005 Thursday, January 13, 2005 Thursday, January 20, 2005 Sunday, January 23, 2005 Monday, January 24, 2005 Saturday, January 29, 2005 Wednesday, February 02, 2005 Thursday, February 03, 2005 Monday, February 07, 2005 Tuesday, February 08, 2005 Friday, February 11, 2005 Monday, February 14, 2005 Wednesday, February 16, 2005 Tuesday, February 22, 2005 Monday, February 28, 2005 Sunday, March 06, 2005 Monday, March 07, 2005 Wednesday, March 09, 2005 Sunday, March 13, 2005 Friday, March 18, 2005 Monday, March 28, 2005 Saturday, April 02, 2005 Monday, April 11, 2005 Sunday, April 17, 2005 Tuesday, April 19, 2005 Monday, April 25, 2005 Monday, May 02, 2005 Monday, May 09, 2005 Tuesday, May 17, 2005 Tuesday, May 31, 2005 Monday, June 06, 2005 Thursday, June 16, 2005 Sunday, June 19, 2005 Sunday, July 10, 2005 Wednesday, July 13, 2005 Sunday, July 24, 2005 Friday, July 29, 2005 Monday, August 08, 2005 Monday, August 22, 2005 Wednesday, August 24, 2005 Friday, September 16, 2005 Sunday, September 25, 2005 Tuesday, October 04, 2005 Tuesday, October 18, 2005 Monday, October 24, 2005 Tuesday, November 01, 2005 Monday, November 07, 2005 Saturday, November 12, 2005 Wednesday, November 16, 2005 Tuesday, November 29, 2005 Friday, December 16, 2005 Monday, January 09, 2006 Thursday, January 12, 2006 Thursday, January 19, 2006 Tuesday, January 24, 2006 Thursday, February 02, 2006 Monday, February 13, 2006 Wednesday, February 15, 2006 Wednesday, March 01, 2006 Sunday, March 19, 2006 Sunday, March 26, 2006 Friday, March 31, 2006 Sunday, April 09, 2006 Monday, April 10, 2006 Thursday, April 20, 2006 Friday, April 21, 2006 Thursday, May 11, 2006 Thursday, May 18, 2006 Saturday, May 20, 2006 Friday, June 02, 2006 Tuesday, June 06, 2006 Friday, June 16, 2006 Monday, June 19, 2006 Sunday, June 25, 2006 Monday, June 26, 2006 Monday, July 10, 2006 Thursday, July 13, 2006 Thursday, July 20, 2006 Friday, July 21, 2006 Sunday, July 23, 2006 Thursday, August 03, 2006 Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Powered by Blogger

Monday, November 07, 2005
A Couple of Crowd Pleasers ...
The Five Senses
Stephen Paulus
Text: Joan Vail Thorne
Narrator: Janet Bookspan
Conductor: Gil Rose
Boston Modern Orchestra Project

Yizkor Requiem – A Quest for Spiritual Roots
Thomas Beveridge
Sir Neville Marriner
Ana Marie Martinez, soprano
Elizabeth Shammash, mezzo-soprano
Robert Brubaker, tenor
Academy and Chorus of St. Martin in the Fields
Label: Naxos 8.559453

Admit it: You giggled when someone who certainly was no James Earl Jones whined out “Peter and the Wolf” or Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait” with your local community orchestra. Even worse was suffering through the uppity soprano who mangled “Pierrot Lunaire” while you were in music school. And don’t even get me started on the past-Weillian spoken chorus work in Blitzstein’s “Regina”.

Face it, accompanied narration is hokey. And Sprechstimme, when done correctly, can be a transcendent experience, but in the wrong hands it will freely do the bidding of the forces of evil.

So, when I leafed through the liner notes of the new Stephen Paulus album, “The Five Senses – Windows of the Mind,” and realized that I was in for a half an hour of such orchestrated commentary, I did my best to approach the recording with open mind and ear. What I emerged with was an enjoyably light, if not ephemeral, experience with a piece that is most certainly a crowd pleaser when performed live.

Written for narrator Janet Bookspan (noted for a number of spoken word recordings and appearances as Commentator on PBS’s Live from Lincoln Center), “The Five Senses – Windows of the Mind” sets an expansive cycle of 14 poems by Joan Vail Thorn (librettist, playwright, and frequent Paulus collaborator), to a rich score steeped in the American idiom. Exploring, as the title suggests, the five – and possibly six – senses, these pieces range from fairy tale to pontification, from mock-Elizabethan love poem to stream of consciousness meandering.

All the individual elements of this recording, examined for their own merits, are pretty, entertaining, and unremarkable. Ms. Bookspan has a warm inviting voice that brings to mind a gentle teacher imparting knowledge to a circle of rapt grammar-schoolers. Her graceful, deep tenor, layered against the masterful and clean accompaniment of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the baton of Gil Rose, carries us through the work, enlightening us when the text does not engage, and lulling us when the music wanders.

Ms. Vail Thorne’s poems are worthy encapsulations of the senses and their respective organs, effectively taking us on a journey through the body on both a symbolic and representative level.

Mr. Paulus’ music, if not a safe and literal interpretation of the text, positively shimmers in its orchestration, utilizing orchestral color in its full romantic capability.

Where “The Five Senses – Windows of the Mind” falls apart is in the marriage of these separate elements, the failing of which creates an overly dramatic half an hour that demands it is of a fuller substance than the established framework of the piece will allow. For example, on the page, “But I cannot taste / until I take things in / … way in … / into my mouth / … my tabernacle,” is a perfectly fair metaphor for the sensuousness of eating, but luridly spoken again Paulus’ intense score makes for a histrionically affected moment to which I can not help but roll my eyes, even after multiple listenings.

As well, while I understand that this piece was created specifically for Ms. Bookspan’s wonderful speaking voice, I am let to wonder, should Mr. Paulus have chosen to compose the music as literally as he has, why did he not just make it a song cycle? My preference for such a spoken word experiment would have been to let the composition take a back seat to the text, allowing the music to float behind the narration, to work against it, to collide with it, and ultimately to allow the audience to question the text and find deeper levels of meaning within it rather than having the orchestra interpret it for us.

Closing out the recoding is Paulus’ twenty-five minute set of orchestral studies, “The Age of American Passions,” again presented by Mr. Rose and the BMOP. In these three charming sketches program pieces, Paulus allows his musical whimsy to wander, taking us on a compelling journey through the American psyche. While, content wise, “The Age of American Passions” follows in the Americana tradition of Copland and Barber, this set of pieces again prove Paulus to be a masterful orchestrator of a more historical tradition. While not necessarily a reason to run out and purchase this disc, I doubt there are few other living composers who can match Paulus’ instincts regarding the emotional impact of orchestral color. This enchanting collection has made it into my current listening rotation and is providing me with a fitting soundtrack to my daily commute on the Chicago El.


That Naxos would issue a second recording of “Yizkor Requiem – A Quest for Spiritual Roots”, this time five years later as a Milken Archive of American Jewish Music project under the direction of Sir Neville Marriner, is proof of the crowd-pleasing ability of Beveridge’s 1994 composition. This new recording presents a cleaner studio capture of the piece, but lacking much of the fire contained in the original live recording (Naxos 8.559074).

A favorite of the choral music set, Beveridge originally conceived of “Yizkor Requiem” in 1991 upon the death of his father. Combining elements of the Requiem mass, the Jewish Yizkor service (meaning “May God remember”), creating a treatise on the parallels between Judaism and Christianity. Rather than using existing music, Beveridge has effectively composed in a style that strives to create a marriage between the religions’ rich musical traditions.

Under Marriner’s experienced baton, the recording is faithful and exact. There are moments of moving singing from soprano Ana Marie Martinez and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Shammash, as well as from the choral forces, but the performance suffers from the forced cantoring of tenor Robert Brubaker, leaving my vocal chords sore in sympathy.

All of the elements are here for a popular populist composition with relative staying power (accessibility, tonality, universality, ease-of-performance), but I want to like it much more than I do. There is little here to challenge me as a listener. Those sections that are soft and chant-like don’t contain the emotional lift or engaging texture that would propel me forward, and moments that should be full of great emotional intensity feel unsupported and cliché. Beveridge also refuses to allow the work to speak for itself, adding a spoken prayer meant to summarize the work to the end of the piece, but which ends up feeling like a tacked on and unnecessary apology. Ultimately, I could see “Yizkor Requiem” as the Easter cantata of many a progressively thinking church choir, or the centerpiece of collegiate and high school choral festivals, most certainly to the delight of those congregated.

If interested in the work of Beveridge, this is a very well engineered record of his popular cantata, but for a more compelling account of the work, I suggest sticking to the original recording.

Search WWWSearch