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Innova records

Jeremy BECK (b. 1960)
State of the Union (1992) [8:58]
Sinfonietta for string orchestra (2000) [16:46]
Death of a Little Girl with Doves (1998) [31:18]*
Rayanne Dupuis (sop)*
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kirk Trevor
rec. 25-28 May 2003, Slovak Radio, Bratislava, Slovak Republic. DDD
INNOVA 612 [57:06]

Here we have a cross-section of Jeremy Beck's music. Whether it is representative we can only take on trust as his music has, until now, made little progress beyond New York, Yale, Chicago and Minneapolis.

Beck is certainly communicative; no ivory tower intellectual. Equally there is resilience and fibre in his writing. His music is taut and engaging and is helped here by better than merely worthy advocacy from a Guildhall-trained conductor and a Slovak orchestra. Everyone invested a full three days in setting down these recordings and the refreshing results are patent.

The satirical State of the Union was written in Connecticut in reaction to George H. W. Bush's State of the Union speech projecting the image of a USA confident and at peace with itself? Beck saw it differently. His seething Bernstein-inflected music reflects disillusion, angst, violence and superficial values. It falls into three sections played attacca: March of the Politicians, Lullaby (for an Urban Child), Revels.

The four movement Sinfonietta reaches for a more profound region. It will be highly accessible to anyone who enjoys the string music of Vaughan Williams or Tippett. Beck’s tumultuously gorgeous scoring has its own ‘signature’ lacking both the psychological acid one finds in William Schuman and the tart alkaline rasp of Rawsthorne to mention only two major twentieth century contributors to the genre.

Regrettably the song-cycle Death of a Little Girl with Doves starts with hardly any pause after the quiet farewell of the Sinfonietta's moderato finale. The crashing of gears is soon forgotten. The text sequence was written by the composer. It tells a heart-rending story of Camille Claudel (1863-1943) the sister of Paul Claudel, the poet, writer and diplomat. Camille was a talented young sculptress, studio assistant to Auguste Rodin, ultimately his lover. Their separation may well have precipitated her mental collapse and then her thirty year confinement in an asylum. The storyline and the words put into the mouth of Claudel are fictionalised but carry a potent emotional charge. The success of the recording owes a great deal to the clarity of diction, sheer musicality and acting ability of the soprano Rayanne Dupuis. The words are set out in the insert but Dupuis is in any event easy to understand. There is a full orchestra and the music is rife with incident both touching and dramatic. Dupuis has to tackle a wide range of expression and style: full operatic temperament, parlando, ardent sentiment, speech (including a cello accompanied reading of the mother's letter to her daughter in the asylum), and word sound-play. Comparison can be made with Britten but in his 1930s phase (at tr. 8 [9.35] - the masterly Our Hunting Fathers), Barber (Knoxville, The Lovers), Rorem and maybe a touch of Roy Harris (Canticle of the Sun and Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun). Other figures suggested include Sondheim in his more operatic mode, Copland's The Tender Land and Oskar Morawetz's From the Diary of Anne Frank. This is a deeply attractive and touching piece of writing which I recommend urgently for its imperious melodic confidence, fluent emotional command and yielding tenderness.

A lovely disc made fully compelling by the song-cycle and one that is likely to leave most listeners keen to hear more from Jeremy Beck. Let's now have Death of a Little Girl with Doves in the 2005 Proms please. Imaginative sopranos with good diction and adventurous and capable music directors should be seeking out this disc. Do not delay.

Rob Barnett

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