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M Abel Home is a Harbora. The Palm Trees are Restlessb a Jamie Chamberlin, aAriel Pisturino, bHila Plitmann sops aJanelle DeStefano mez aJon Lee Keenan ten aBabatunde Akinboboye, aE Scott Levin bars aCarver Cossey bass bTali Tadmor pf a La Brea Sinfonietta / Benjamin Makino Delos B b DE3495 (124’ • DDD • S/T)
talks to... Dashon Burton The award-winning baritone from the Bronx on his new album, ‘Songs of Struggle & Redemption’
The two works receiving their premiere recordings on this disc show the
American composer Mark Abel to have an affinity for vocal settings in diverse contexts. Home is a Harbor is his first opera, while The Palm Trees are Restless gives striking musical life to five poems by Kate Gale.
In both pieces, Abel employs a colourful blend of styles, ranging from classical and jazz to hints of rock. They serve the emotional nature of each score to bracing and poignant effect. The opera traces the odyssey of twin sisters in California who set out as idealists and learn the challenging ways of the world. The moral is a 21st-century variation on ‘there’s no place like home’.
All of the characters in Home is a Harbor have first names beginning with the letter L, for reasons unknown. But they’re certainly connected by the circumstances that bring them together, pull them apart and, at the end, bind them. Abel’s lucid narrative and vibrant vocal lines, combined with telling orchestrations for a chamber ensemble, make the work an affecting experience. The cast is strong, and Benjamin Makino conducts La Brea Sinfonietta in a vivid performance.
Unlike the opera, the song-cycle eschews idealism for hard realities of life. The verses are bursts of feeling that Abel sets to vocal lines of strenuous extremes. The brilliant soprano Hila Plitmann manages every leap and switch of emotional gears with fearless commitment, and pianist Tali Tadmor matches her in power and subtlety. Donald Rosenberg
Tell us how the idea for this album first came about. My producer and I were comparing notes about future projects, and these beautiful songs spoke to both of us; we both knew we had to add to the already legendary body of work by others with our own efforts..
How did you choose which of these songs to include? These are my favorites ever since I began singing! Some of them were recent additions, and Nat [pianist Nathaniel Gumbs] and I were glad to experiment a bit on some of them.
When do you remember first becoming aware of these songs? When I was young, these songs were so powerful, and though I didn’t know much about music at the time, they really shot to the heart. Such amazing melodies and strong words, imbued with so much faith and spirit. I knew they were different, even if I couldn’t say how.
Schumann ‘Fantasy & Romance’ Fantasiestücke, Op 73. Adagio and Allegro, Op 70. Drei Romanzen, Op 94. Märchenbilder, Op 113. Fünf Stücke im Volkston, Op 102. Abendlied, Op 85 No 12. Traümerei, Op 15 No 7 Emanuel Gruber vc Keiko Sekino pf Delos F DE3481 (70’ • DDD)
You can hardly blame musicians for being eager to play Schumann chamber
Do you feel you need to find a special way to approach this sort of music? I believe that these songs are absolutely accessible to anyone with an open heart and an open mind. They don’t belong to any one vocal style.
What’s coming up next? I’m hoping to put together a compendium of some of the ‘bad boys’ of the Baroque era. There are some amazingly fun and virtuoso pieces out there that I can’t wait to tackle! To keep up, you can also follow me on Twitter (@dashonburton) – where you can find my sense of duty to the music I love, next to the sense of humour that I’ve worked so hard to cultivate!
pieces not written for their instruments. Who wouldn’t want to visit, however briefly, the world of ‘Fantasy & Romance’ that cellist Emanuel Gruber and pianist Keiko Sekino inhabit on their new disc? Schumann wrote only one of the works, Five Pieces in Folk-style, Op 102, with the cello expressly in mind. But since all of the repertoire conjures up poetic and ardent images, the cello is literally typecast in this music.
Clarinettists might feel the Fantasiestücke, Op 73, sound more idiomatic on their instrument; the same for hornists and the Adagio and Allegro,
GRAMOPHONE AUGUST 2016 I