A special eight-page section focusing on recent recordings from the US and Canada
Deak BB Wolf (An Apologia)a. Bye-Bye!b. The Legend of Spuyten Duyvilc. The Snow Queen Finale: The Ice Palaced b Julia Bogorad-Kogan l/narr cChris Gekker tpt d Pamela Goldsmith va aJohn Deak db/narr a Judith Lynn Stillman pf/narr cdCabrillo Festival Orchestra / Marin Alsop narr Naxos American Classics B 8 559785 (53’ • DDD) Recorded live at cdCabrillo Festival Hall, Santa Cruz, CA, July 31 & August 1, 1993; ab820 West End Ave, New York, December 15, 1998
Narrators, like humour, are notoriously difficult to integrate into musical works. For every successful endeavour – Schoenberg rather had the knack, as in Gurrelieder, A Survivor from Warsaw and the Ode to Napoleon – the failures are legion. Works such as Britten’s Young Person’s Guide and Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf don’t really count as the narration is not really integrated into the scores and can be omitted.
Jon Deak (b1943), former doublebassist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, is a composer who has clearly embraced the genre, as this unusual and enterprising release from Naxos reveals. The four works featured here date from 1982 – BB Wolf – to 1991, when The Snow Queen Finale and The Legend of Spuyten Duyvil were composed. The formats are very different, BB Wolf (An Apologia) scored for Deak to declaim while playing the bass unaccompanied, Bye-Bye! (1987) a more complex ‘tribute to the immigrants of America’ for flute and piano, where both players double as speakers, and the two orchestral works where conductor Marin Alsop also narrates.
Each piece works quite well – Deak is an efficient and accomplished composer – though it strikes me that in each case the impact of the music is greater for being seen and heard live. There is an immediacy to the writing that does not fully translate on disc, especially in his apologia for the perhaps not-so-villainous wolf, BB Wolf,
where seeing Deak perform this live would be more compelling. To varying degrees the same applies to the other pieces, which employ instrumental and vocal effects that are better seen as well as heard. The expressive targets are not always comedic: The Legend of Spuyten Duyvil is a tragic tale and The Snow Queen Finale is emotively ambiguous. The performances are all well executed and well recorded. Guy Rickards
K Smith The Arc in the Sky The Crossing / Donald Nally Navona F NV6240 (66’ • DDD • T)
Kile Smith describes his The Arc in the Sky as a ‘65-minute pilgrimage for unaccompanied choir’, and, he might have added, for listeners. Smith’s series of nine musical meditations based on selected, painfully vulnerable poems by Robert Lax climaxes in the final track, ‘The Arc’, which for 12 minutes focuses and refocuses on two five-word phrases – ‘the arc in the sky/ the arc of the sea’ – not melismatically but in abstract sequences without pattern that engage listeners as observers who play a role in what is being received, like the physicists at CERN.
The weight of Lax’s influence and of the philosopher Thomas Merton, who believed that poetry could serve as a primary means of communication not so much with the outer world but with the soul, is reflected in Kile’s choices; he prefers first to adumbrate and then to discover. His identification with the poet’s voice is complete, meaning disappears, and then light breaks through and you realise you have been understanding the meaning all the time.
There is a subtle variety in the way Smith pursues these messages. ‘Psalm’ is passionate, dissonant at ‘I believed myself’; it finds relief in the radiance of ‘Jerusalem’. ‘I would stand and watch them’ wanders along more disquieting paths, features solo voices, risks more silence, before it leads into ‘The Arc’, which is to say the beginning.
The sound of Donald Nally’s The Crossing, recorded at St Peter’s Church in Malvern, Pennsylvania, applies a grainy black-on-grey patina over the concurrent arcs of their sensitive, responsive performances. Laurence Vittes
Zink ‘The Cloud of Unknowing: Explorations in Chamber Music’ Afterglowa. Cipherb. The Cloud of Unknowingb. On the Boundarya. Remembered Thingsa. String Quartetb. String Quintetb Alexis Castrogiovanni vc with bErik JohnsonScherger, bAvery Morris vns bRenée Dahl va b Joshua Bullen db aAbigail Sánchez pf Azédarac Music F 061297 642700 (50’ • DDD)
The title of this disc of chamber music for strings by Canadianborn Steve Zink, ‘The
Cloud of Unknowing’, is curiously (and, I suspect, unintentionally) apt. Azédarac’s disc is remarkably uninformative aside from composition names and who plays what. The only dates are copyright ones. (2018: were they all written then? The composer’s website is just as unhelpful.) There is no hint of any piece’s inspiration or expressive aims, just a blandly grand statement that his intention is to ‘facilitate encounter with that depth dimension that operates … beyond good and evil. The aim here is not symbolization but incantation.’ For a disc subtitled ‘Explorations in Chamber Music’ – what, where is he exploring? – this is curiously uncommunicative, the listener’s enforced ‘unknowing’ rather self-defeating, as if discovering new territory only in the unlit dark. Were the music more interesting this might not matter. The opening half of the programme contains three songs without words for cello and piano – performed very nicely by Alexis Castrogiovanni (who plays throughout) and accompanist Abigail Sánchez – punctuated by two brief quintets,
GRAMOPHONE OCTOBER 2019 I