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Yehudi WYNER (b.1929)
The Second Madrigal: Voices of Women (1999) *
Quartet for Oboe and String Trio (1999) #
Horntrio (1997) +
Dominique Labelle (soprano), Daniel Steppner (violin), Judith Eissenberg (violin), Mary Ruth Ray (viola), Rafael Popper-Keizer (cello), Carolyn Davis Fryer (bass), Susan Gall (flute), Peggy Pearson (oboe), Katherine Matasy (clarinet), Janet Underhill (bassoon), Jean Rife (horn), Robert Schulz (percussion), Yehudi Wyner (conductor) *
Peggy Pearson (oboe), Bayla Keyes (violin), Mary Ruth Ray (viola), Rhonda Rider (cello) #
James Buswell (violin), Jean Rife (horn), Yehudi Wyner (piano) +
Recorded at Mechanics Hall, Worcester, MA and The Studio, Roslindale MA, December 2000-May 2002
BRIDGE 9134 [67.41]


Though he is Canadian-born Yehudi Wyner grew up in New York, studied at Juilliard and later at Yale with Piston and with Hindemith. Winner of the Rome Prize for Composition in 1953 he spent three years in that city and has since pursued a distinguished career as performer, composer and teacher. He’s currently at Brandeis University and is a visiting professor at Harvard. This disc reflects many of the collegiate associations he has built up – members of the Lydian Quartet, resident at Brandeis, take a formidable share of the responsibilities here as do soprano Dominique Labelle (associated with the Lydians amongst numerous others) and well-known oboist Peggy Pearson, who proposed the idea of an Oboe Quartet to Wyner.

All three works are recent. The Second Madrigal: Voices of Women takes poems anthologised in A Book of Luminous Things edited by the distinguished poet Czeslaw Milosz. Wyner selected ten poems, mainly translations from Chinese, Sanskrit or Polish texts, and they are laid out in such a way as to suggest a kind of narrative. All concern women in some essential way – they were all written by or about women - and the cycle evolves from a group on the theme of morning through love, ageing and death. Written with a strong ensemble to provide a shifting and complex instrumental patina behind Labelle’s soprano (for whom Wyner wrote the cycle) there is a sense of evolution and exploration throughout the set. Starting with the whispered intimacies of Getting Up In Winter and the saucy-jaunty bassoon rich sonority of In The Morning the short but well characterised pieces impress. Sometimes the tessitura causes real demands – as in the third of the cycle, Morning where Labelle’s diction suffers because of it – but the technical demands exist in parallel with the expressive ones. Thus she communicates the soaring urgency of sexual love in When He Pressed His Lips, with real drama. Confronted with the bizarre poem that gives the work its title, The Second Madrigal, a setting by Anna Swir (1909-1984) and translated into English by Milosz and Leonard Nathan and we can hear little instrumental intimacies (such as the scurrying violin introduction) that colour the setting – it does after all take some derring-do to set the lines Healthy as a/buttock of a little angel with a straight face.

I greatly admired the fanfare like opening of Thank You, My Fate, the sixth of the cycle, and the internalised monologue of Cosmetics Do No Good – Marschallin like in its self-perception. Wyner certainly doesn’t shy away from musico-pictorial elements such as the scurrying wind in The Greatest Love (ambiguity transfusing into this setting) or strongly accented words in a phrase or the wild onrush of the last of the ten settings, a meditation on death and dying. Compositionally Wyner sounds very much his own man; perceptive, colouristically acute, a fine setter of words.

The Oboe Quartet opens with the strange pizzicato tread of the cello before the lyrical oboe enters. This is a work that brims with a sense of constant flux, motion and fusion where austere meditations, in which the light violin and viola curl and coil above the brooding cello, co-exist with a perky allegretto section full of drive. Here the insouciance of one instrument is marked by the seemingly oblivious direction of another. The moods coalesce and drift apart again and the narrative flows with great intimacy and purpose. When the three strings conjoin in a communing melancholy it’s noticeable how the oboe winds gently above them or how the mordancy of the little pizzicato-inspired incidents are conveyed with almost vocalised relish. It’s entirely appropriate then that the work seems to end on a note of elliptical detachment.

The Horntrio – Wyner’s Germanic compound not mine - is made of much tougher stuff than the companion works. Its modernism is announced immediately with insistent blaring horn and scurrying violin. Against that there is plenty of opportunity for sonority – for pellucid piano, veiled fiddle and open but wandering horn passages. In the slow movement one can admire the introspective lines of the violin and the way in which the piano – here played by the composer – explores the harmonies with such clarity and coherence. The finale is resinous and driving; Wyner adds in his notes that he can point out fragments of popular tunes in the work (Lazybones, Gershwin’s Who Cares and even Chattanooga Choo Choo but don’t think this is a faux naïve tapestry of quotations. If they’re there – and one must take the composer’s word for it – you’ll have to listen hard to grasp their essence. The work ends with explosively crashing finality.

The performances are truly eloquent and Bridge’s production values are high, from the excellent booklet notes – words from Wyner and Martin Brody – to the full-bodied recording quality. Wyner’s is an imaginative voice in contemporary American composition and this is a fine slice of his creativity.

Jonathan Woolf


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