> FEIGIN Transience [HC] : Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Joel FEIGIN (born 1951)
Five Ecstatic Poems by Kabir (1989)a
Veränderungen (1995)
Four Poems by Linda Pastan (1987)a
Four Fantasy Pieces (1987)
Four Poems of Wallace Stevens (1985, rev. 1996)a
Nexus (1993)
First Tragedy (1982)a
Echoes from the Holocaust (1993)
Eight Japanese Poems (1983, rev. 1993)a
Transience (1994, rev. 1995)
Christine Schadeberg (soprano)a; Musiciansí Accord; Fred Cohen (conductor)
Recorded: St. Peterís Episcopal Church, Chelsea, New York City, September 1995 and March 1996; The Mansion at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, NJ, March 1996 (Eight Japanese Poems)
NORTH/SOUTH RECORDINGS R 1011 [2CDs: 69:36 + 57:06]


Joel Feigin, now in his early fifties, has a sizeable body of works to his credit. Vocal pieces, including operas, feature prominently in his output. It is therefore quite natural that the present composerís portrait appropriately centres on Feiginís vocal music setting a huge variety of texts, as will soon be seen.

The earliest piece in this selection is First Tragedy, completed in 1982 with some revisions in 1992, and setting texts by a Vietnamese poet dealing with the horrendous events that happened during the Vietnam War. The setting for soprano, clarinet and piano is predominantly slow and meditative, as much of Feiginís music seems to be, though not without more disturbing moments. The music with its own blend of tonal and atonal harmonies, of song and Sprechgesang, follows the textís implications, from anguished terror to hard-won resilience. The Eight Japanese Poems of 1983 are more in the nature of haiku, and the intimate nature of the poems is aptly reflected in the soprano-and-harp setting. One thinks here of Rubbraís The Jade Mountain with which Feiginís short cycle favourably compares. The Four Poems of Wallace Stevens (1985, with revisions in 1996) are scored for soprano, flute, percussion, cello and piano. Feigin calls this short cycle "a dramatic evocation of its text"; and his musical setting is appropriately full of contrasts echoing the various moods of Stevensí words. The Four Poems of Linda Pastan (1987), scored for soprano, flute, viola, double bass, piano and percussion, is more expressionistic through the use of atonality and, at times, Sprechgesang. The last song, We Come to Silence, is by contrast, peaceful and beautifully moving. The last vocal work is the Five Ecstatic Poems of Kabir of 1989. Again, this work is scored for soprano and four players (flute, clarinet, percussion and piano). Kabir was a 15th Century Indian poet and Sufi mystic. Globally, this cycle is the more overtly lyrical, though it also has its more troubled moments. These five short cycles are all beautiful examples of Feiginís lyricism. He obviously is a born songwriter who always finds the most adequate musical response to his chosen texts. His settings are remarkably subtly written, and the often sparse, though by no means minimalist, accompaniments (often scored for small mixed ensemble with piano) are always apt to the point, while never overdoing things

The instrumental works shed another light on Feiginís achievement, though they have much in common with the vocal pieces. Veränderungen (1995) for violin and piano is in fact a theme and variations of some substance whereas the Four Fantasy Pieces (1987) for flute and piano show his more playful side. The latter is a most welcome addition to the flute-and-piano repertoire, and a very attractive piece indeed. Nexus (1996), also for flute and piano, is a homage to Bach and again a very entertaining piece, though I found it marginally less compelling than the rest of this programme. In spite of a title that might imply some brooding mysticism ("New Age bromide", to quote Feiginís words), Transience for oboe and percussion is an often nervous, restless, turbulent piece of music that nevertheless ends in new-found tranquillity. One of the finest works here.

Echoes from the Holocaust (1993) for oboe, viola and piano, is, according to the composer, a set of variations on an "idealised Jewish folk song" based on features from two songs written by Holocaust victims. Again a very moving piece that cleverly avoids any attempt at making things larger than life. This seems to be a predominant characteristic of Feiginís music which always eschews grandiloquence and communicates in restrained, though quite telling terms. This may incidentally have to do with Feiginís interest in Buddhism.

This double CD set is a superb composerís portrait of the kind I like to have. It offers a quite comprehensive survey of Feiginís sincere, communicative and deeply felt music. This is well served with excellent performances by dedicated artists who clearly love Feiginís endearing music. Warmly recommended.

Hubert Culot

Information about North/South Consonance may be found on www.northsouthmusic.org or in writing : N/S Recordings, PO Box 5081, Albany NY 12205-0081.

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