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Reviews New recordings from Boston, Chicago, New York and Sonoma » The Scene Live highlights – page VII
C Bono Invocations – No 1, ‘Exhaust’; No 2, ‘Fish, Father, Phoenix’ (two versions); No 3, ‘Sunday Stills the Willow’. The Missing Hiroko Taguchi vn Whitney LaGrange vn/va Yukio Kamakari, Alisa Horn vc ensemble / Paul Haas Our Silent Canvas F (53’ • DDD)
Bono’s ‘invocations’ triptych from New York musicians Christopher Bono’s Invocations is a triptych consisting of three large, diversely scored movements. The first is for string trio, the second is for mixed chamber ensemble and pre‑recorded sounds featuring cut‑up samples of the composer’s voice interweaving with field recordings of nature and animal sounds made in South Africa and Botswana, while the third is for chamber ensemble only. Bono writes that each movement represents a stanza from an inscribed personal prayer; but the music is easy to absorb on its own terms without the aid of a programme. While post‑minimalist devices such as repeated‑note ostinatos with syncopated accents, hard‑hitting articulations and slow glissandos characterise the string trio movement, they never sound like clichés by virtue of Bono’s skilful textural deployment and ear for timbral variety. The second movement’s pre‑recorded soundtrack often obliterates the impact of many instruments playing; the delicate interplay in sparsely scored sections comes off more convincingly in an alternate version of the movement minus the soundtrack. Invocation No 3 begins with a lazy, loping vibraphone against low pizzicato strings. One minute and a half into the piece, the winds and high strings join in with long lines that slowly intermingle and build. The Missing for string quartet starts off with sustained, dissonant high‑register material, shapely glissando sequences and scratching sounds. Expansive counterpoint operating within a post‑minimal harmonic language follows, then the pace picks up by way of shorter, more incisive phrases, easing into a slow conclusion.
If you like Michael Nyman, you’ll probably like Christopher Bono. This composer‑produced recording stands out talks to... Gil Rose The Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s conductor on tackling Harbison’s Winter’s Tale on CD The opera has barely been performed since its 1979 premiere… It’s a funny piece. The first act is just like the Shakespeare play but seems to have nothing to do with the second act. It shifts gears in intermission from that hyper-dramatic style to a 1970s version of The Rake’s Progress. But I thought the material warranted being heard to show John [Harbison] at that point in his development. We gave the world premiere of the complete revised version in a concert performance in 2009 and now we’ve made the world-premiere recording. I’ve told the publishers to keep me in mind if they decide to pursue a staged performance!
What are the opera’s challenges? Back then, as now, John was fascinated with Schütz and that kind of polyphony. Unlike most operatic scores, which are melody- or vocal-line-centric, this has a very dense polyphonic texture. It is very heavily scored, especially in the first act, which does create diﬀ iculty in balance – staging the opera properly and having the orchestra in the pit would help. The opera is also very challenging for the singers – it pushes the limits vocally. You can see Maxwell Davies’s influence on the falsetto singing in the baritone part. And in the recording, when we got to the soprano arias, which are very bare with huge, long lines, we’d joke that it was time to bring out the iron lung!
Describe the ‘Dumbshows’… They’re similar to the instrumental interludes in John’s The Great Gatsby. He did very wise things as a young composer. In a long, dense play, they’re great devices that give us time to catch up on the story. If you were staging the opera, you might use puppets or silhouettes.
for the engineering’s clean and clear quality and the focused precision of the performers. Jed Distler
Harbison Winter’s Tale Anne Harley sop Janna Baty, Pamela Dellal mezs Matthew Anderson, Christian Figueroa tens Aaron Engebreth, David Kravitz bars Paul Guttry, Jeramie Hammond, Dana Whiteside basses Boston Modern Orchestra Project / Gil Rose BMOP/sound F b 1023 (84’ • DDD • S/T)
Harbison’s Shakespeareinspired opera in Boston Although John Harbison’s Winter’s Tale (1974, rev 1991) is by no means the only opera to vary dramatically in tone from act to act – I offer Mozart’s Magic Flute as Exhibit A – the shift from Harbison’s astringently modernist Act 1 to his wistfully lyrical Act 2 is particularly stark. It may also account for the opera’s chilly reception at its belated premiere in 1979 and its chequered history ever since. Many listeners would have initially found it the unfocused work of a 30‑something dilettante. From today’s vantage point – after his successful run of The Great Gatsby at the Metropolitan Opera – Harbison’s choice now seems inspired.
After distilling Shakespeare’s first three acts into a single expressive sweep, Harbison turns lyrical to illustrate a 16‑year jump in the storyline. In between (and aiding the narrative compression) Harbison inserts a series of voiceless ‘Dumbshows’ drawn from gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE DECEMBER 2012 I