> LIFSCHITZ Of Bondage and Freedom [HC]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Max LIFSCHITZ (born 1948)
Of Bondage and Freedom (1991)a
Raoul PLESKOW (born 1931)

Two Arabesques (1988)
Laura GREENBERG (born 1943)

La Vida Es Sueño (1988)b
This Man Was Your Brother (1979)a
Charles DVORAK (born 1953)

Amandla Mandela! (1991)c
Lynne Vardaman (soprano)a; Rachel Rosales (soprano)b; H. Patrick Swygert (narrator)c; North/South Consonance; Max Lifschitz
Recorded: Recital Hall, University of Albany, June 1993 and Great Hall, Long Island University, March 1990


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The indefatigable driving force of North/South Consonance and a brilliant pianist specialising in contemporary music, Max Lifschitz is also a distinguished composer as is evident when listening to his beautifully moving Of Bondage and Freedom of 1991. Three movements are for voice and instruments, setting poems by the Jewish poet Abraham Sutzkever and by the Nobel winning Catholic Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz. These moving texts are set in a wide variety of language and of style. The Sutzkever A Cartload of Shoes is sung in Yiddish whereas the Milosz poem Campo di Fiori is sung partly in the original Polish and partly in English translation. However, the opening section, Premonitions, is an elegiac introduction for solo violin. A Cartload of Shoes is quite effectively set for soprano and violin whereas Campo di Fiori (i.e. a park in Rome) gathers the three players (soprano, violin and piano). The vocal writing here sometimes turns to Sprechstimme to telling effect. Remembrance, for violin and piano, is based on a Yiddish tune and briefly quotes from a piece by Schumann, as a faint echo from times past. The final section Libera Me sets fragments from Milosz and Sutzkever as well as from the Book of Job.

Raoul Pleskow’s Two Arabesques (1988) is a highly contrasted diptych scored for a small mixed ensemble of winds, strings and piano. Pleskow’s music is a fairly traditional blend of tonal and atonal elements, and is characterised by fairly complex contrapuntal writing.

Laura Greenberg’s La Vida Es Sueño (1988) for soprano and six players sets parts of a soliloquy from a play by Calderón de la Barca, which is some sort of Spanish equivalent to Hamlet’s To be or not to be. Her Kenneth Patchen setting This Man Was Your Brother (1979, soprano and seven players including three percussionists) is evidently quite different in mood. The percussive qualities of the instrumental writing emphasise the quickly changing moods of the poem.

In Amandla Mandela! (1991), Charles Dvorak sets a number of texts by Nelson Mandela dealing with the social and political situation in South Africa and with his own imprisonment. The piece is scored for narrator, clarinet, double bass, piano and percussion (two players). For nearly ten minutes, the work is a melodrama for narrator and timpani (the effect is not unlike that of Spring Offensive from Bliss’s Morning Heroes). The music then discreetly steals in. It is based on John Coltrane’s song Alabama; and its presence grows as the narration moves on. It reaches a short jazzy section with prominent percussion. This undoubtedly sincere work is nevertheless let down by the comparative lack of music. A pity indeed for the actual music played by the ensemble is simple, straightforward and very attractive in its simplicity. There is just too little of it.

This well-planned, well-played and well-recorded selection is on the whole very interesting and has some fine music to offer. It is well worth investigating. A typical North/South Consonance enterprise exploring some little-known by-ways of the American musical scene.

Hubert Culot

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