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
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
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.