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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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CANTICUM NOVUM: Sacred Vocal Music from the Late 20th Century
Mario LAVISTA (b. 1943)

Missa ad consolationis dominam nostram (1995) [28:01]
Cary BOYCE (b. 1995)

By the Waters (2000) [4:10]
John EATON (b. 1942)

Mass (1970, rev. 1996) [21:29]
Menachem ZUR (b. 1942)

Alleluia-Psalm 150 (1998) [6:00]
Aguavá New Music Ensemble/Carmen Helena Téllez
Recording dates and venues not listed except for Psalm 150, which was recorded live in Tel Aviv at the Tempus Fugit Festival, March 2000. DDD
AGUAVÁ 2001-1-CD-T [59:41]


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The purpose of vocal music (unless as in the case of Debussy, for example, voices are used as instruments without texts) is to elevate a text to a level that is beyond the emotional capacity of speaking. If the musical setting serves the text, then it can be deemed a success. If it does not, then there was no reason to set it in the first place. In this new recording of vocal music by living composers, we are met with some definite successes and some abject failures, and the blame or praise can be laid squarely at the feet of the composers.

Mario Lavista’s 1995 mass setting is a definite success. In this version, which was recast from its original choral form into a work for solo voices and a chamber ensemble of instruments, we have a thoughtful and careful setting of the age-old mass text. It is a setting that allows for plenty of virtuoso showcasing on the part of the singers, but at the same time remains true to the intent of the words. One can quickly conclude that this work probably fares better in its latter disposition. The vocal lines, while appealing and at times hauntingly lovely, are beastly in their disjunct melodies and other worldly harmonies. Carmen Helena Téllez is a conductor with a fine ear for detail, and she leads a group of first class singing and instrumental talent. Balances are perfect and these singers handle the difficult vocal lines with ease. If there be a bone to pick here, it is the annoying mispronunciation of eleison in the opening movement. The singers consistently voice the s (making it a z), which is incorrect in either Greek or Latin. It is a pet peeve of mine and in both mass settings on this disc it drove me to distraction.

Cary Boyce’s By the Waters also receives a fine performance, but one wonders why so many contemporary composers feel compelled to put sopranos in the extremes of their ranges for extended periods of time. Both Bridget Wintermann Parker and Susan Swaney are human flutes and have amazing control over the purely celestial portions of their voices, but one is left wondering why they are asked to use their instruments thus.

To these ears, John Eaton’s Mass from 1970/1996 fails. The extended vocal techniques that the score requires serve no purpose except to be weird for weird’s sake. The opening Kyrie asks for most unattractive singing by the female voices, (again with the mispronunciation of eleison) and the bass’s repeated Ky-ri, Ky-ri, Ky-ri, Ky-ri, Ky-rie sounds a good deal more like the summoning of one’s cat than a plea for mercy. Of course, some mass settings are intended not for liturgy but for concerts, but this one fails on both counts. I cannot find one shred of evidence from listening to this Mass that the composer had any other intention for the texts than that they were handy and he did not have to look far to find them. Regardless of intent, the words of the mass have deep and ancient spiritual meaning to millions of people. In this case, that meaning eluded the composer.

Menachem Zur’s interestingly macaronic setting of Psalm 150 is harmless enough if not completely effective. It is a worthy work and receives a good performance.

The musicians on this recording are without question of immense talent and skill. I have to wonder though why such fine talent is applied to such music. This group would be better served to stick to composers of Lavista’s ability and leave the others alone. There is too much fine repertoire out there that never gets the kind of performance that these musicians are capable of giving.

Sound quality is excellent; program notes are the ramblings of composer-types who should spare us prose and stick to quavers.

Kevin Sutton

 



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