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