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SOUNDS OF AMERICA

Delicate colour: Hillary Herndon (viola) and Wei-Chun Bernadette Lo (piano) resuscitate forgotten music composed in 1919 – see review on page I

‘Five Minutes for Earth’ Chambers Melting Point Chen Yi Dark Mountains Daugherty Hear the Dust Blow Dorff Meditation at Perkiomen Creek Esmail inconvenient wounds K Fitch as Earth dreams Harlin Time Lapse Hartke Fault Line Heyder Earthview Itoh Koholā Sings (Humpback Whales) Kernis On Hearing Nightbirds at Dusk Maneval The Demise of the Shepard Glacier Pujol Milonga para mi Tierra Schocker Memory of Trees Zhou Long Green Yolanda Kondonassis hp Azica (ACD71349 • 80’)

When Science Officer Spock of the starship USS Enterprise compiles his playlist in the 23rd century, Yonlanda Kondonassis’s recital of music commissioned to ‘express a powerful experience inspired by Earth’ will serve as a reminder of how 21st-century humans cherished and feared for their home planet. For Kondonassis, the harp is the ideal instrument to create what she describes as ‘a strong metaphorical protagonist in the story of Earth’. Takuma Itoh’s Kohola¯ Sings echoes George Crumb’s cries of whales, the occasional beauties in Michael Daugherty’s Hear the Dust Blow herald the promises of California, and Máximo Diego Pujol’s Milonga para mi Tierra captures his aching love for the Argentine pampas. More cataclysmic is Reena Esmail’s inconvenient wounds, which imagines the moment when tiny cracks in a glacier begin to grow into large fissures that sheer off massive slabs of ice into the sea. This theme of melting glaciers is followed more gently by Jocelyn Chambers and Philip Maneval, while Chen Yi’s Dark Mountains and Stephen Hartke’s Fault Line explore the brutality of nature under siege. Most affecting on purely musical terms are the works without specific references: the unsettling imagination of Keith Fitch’s as Earth dreams, with three of the harp’s strings detuned by a quarter-step, Patrick Harlin’s Time Lapse, Zhou Long’s Green and Daniel Dorff’s Meditation at Perkiomen Creek.

The recording, made in Sauder Concert Hall at Goshen College, Indiana, is almost painfully sensitive but captures the powerful emotions raised by Kondonassis’s virtuosity with extraordinary impact. Laurence Vittes

‘New Suns’ Bettinelli Madrigali a cinque voci miste – Libere e lievi; Quando tutto all’intorno; Sia calmo il mio respiro Boyle Supplice Gill Six Pensées de Pascal G Jackson Spring. Zero Point Re lection J Metcalf The Sea’s Wash in the Hollow of the Heart Variant 6 Open G Records (195269 164461 • 56’ • T/t)

The pandemic has been hard on everyone, including musicians thwarted in pursuing their art. For singers in general and vocal ensembles in particular, it’s been an especially gruelling period, when lifting voices was considered risky business. So it’s a joy to hear the gleaming singers of Variant 6 sounding so fresh and motivated on their first full-length recording, ‘New Suns’, which was made both before the pandemic arrived and during a lull in the surge of – talk about irony – variants.

Let’s just say the music-making on this recording is infectious and leave it at that. Philadelphia-based Variant 6, who are devoted to expanding the repertoire for vocal ensemble, perform six recent works that are inspiring on many levels, from the marriage of meaningful texts and compelling music to the performances, which are astonishing in tonal focus, pinpoint intonation, subtlety of expression and sheer vocal virtuosity. It would be difficult to imagine the composers not pinching themselves to hear their creations given such radiant shaping.

Each of the works takes Variant 6 on a different musical journey. The three movements of Benjamin CS Boyle’s Supplice find the singers savouring ecstatic soundscapes set to poems by Paul Éluard, while Gabriel Jackson’s Zero Point Reflection transforms a poem by Doris Kareva into a cavalcade of colourful and audacious interactions for three women (Variant 6 sopranos Jessica Beebe and Rebecca Myers and mezzo-soprano Elisa Sutherland).

The writing in Bruno Bettinelli’s Madrigali a cinque voci miste is intricate and gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE AUGUST 2022 III

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