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Monday, June 26, 2006
Nothing Sacred


Michael Hoppé
Heidi Fielding: soprano; Dwain Briggs: tenor; Chris Bleth: oboe; Martin Tillmann: cello; Bernadette Allbaugh: clarinet; Alyssa Park: violin; Lilly Hayden: violin; Michael Hoppé: keyboards.

Hearts of Space 2-HOS-11418

Passions and Prayers: Sextet in Hommage to Jerusalem

Yitzhak Yedid
Alon Reuven: French horn; Orit Orbach: clarinet, bass clarinet; Yaron Ouzana: trombone; Galia Hai: viola; Ora Boasson Horev: double bass; Yitzhak Yedid: piano.

Between the Lines BTLCHR-71207

Composers Michael Hoppe and Yitzhak Yedid have each delivered a work that takes a fresh approach toward sacred themes; though vastly different in execution, both pieces emphasize the restorative potential of music.

Over two thousand Requiems have been written, with each reflecting the unique sensibility of its composer. Thus, Mozart’s work is highly melodic, if foreboding; Verdi’s Requiem is dramatic and operatic; and the Berlioz effort is wildly ambitious in scope and orchestration. Given the spiritualist bent of the New Age genre, it is only fitting that one of its practitioners would try his hand at a Requiem, and that is precisely what Michael Hoppé has done.

Taking the subject matter into account, Requiems tend to be dark and brooding works; Hoppé takes a different route, gleaning from the liturgical text only passages that are calm and comforting. His soft, soothing music creates a sense of inner peace, the apparent goal of most New Age recordings. However, those who are unresponsive to the genre may be frustrated by Requiem’s soporific melodies and minimal development.

This is not to imply that the piece is anything but a pleasant, tranquil listen; it may even prove therapeutic for those in mourning, especially if one’s preferred method of dealing with grief is to sleep through it. Otherwise, for listeners who seek a challenging religious work that arrives at a state of transcendence by exploring the complexity of human emotion, one might suggest a Requiem by Schnittke, Penderecki or, quite frankly, any other composer.

Requiem is well-performed, with fine singing by tenor Dwain Briggs and soprano Heidi Fielding, though the vibrato of the latter is sometimes a bit wide. Few observers will have difficulty questioning the sincerity of Hoppé’s work, which accomplishes everything that one would expect a New Age Requiem to achieve; that is all the motivation genre enthusiasts need to purchase the recording, and all the motivation detractors need to steer clear.

Israeli composer Yitzhak Yedid’s Passions and Prayers also puts a contemporary spin on a sacred concept, resulting in a far more challenging work. Forming a story arc around the subject of Jerusalem, its five parts illustrate the city’s turmoil while celebrating its culture; however, Passions and Prayers leans more readily toward the former, if one is to interpret “passion” in the biblical sense of “suffering.” Cacophonous dissonance abounds, and even the softest passages show signs of unease. If the piece is a reflection of Yedid’s own political outlook, he seems less than optimistic.

A sextet of predominantly Israeli musicians performs the work with sufficient emotional intensity, but they are sometimes reticent to navigate the fringes of their inhibitions. This is a lamentable fact, given that the work contains improvisational sections offering plentiful opportunities for the players to cut loose. Regardless, there are genuinely disquieting moments throughout the performance, many of them provided by the string players, violist Gaila Hai and bassist Ora Horev. Other memorable contributions come courtesy of clarinetist Orit Orbach, trombonist Yaron Ouzana, and French hornist Alon Reuven. As a pianist, Yedid displays a fondness for cluster chords and an interest in the extremes of range, making extensive use of a “rumbling” effect created on the lower register of the piano.

While there is a structural unity to Passions and Prayers, Yedid’s detailed liner notes give no indication of an explicit narrative. They do confirm that he aims to elicit specific emotional responses in the listener: the first part should create “a spirit of pervading sadness”; the second strives for a “sense of mystery”; the closing tones of the fourth part constitute a “portrayal of naivety,” and so on.

Yedid’s keen awareness of space is reflected in the atmospheric recording. Like Michael Hoppé’s Requiem, Passions and Prayers is a deeply personal work that will find a supportive audience, specialized though it may be.


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