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Elodie LAUTEN (b. 1951)
Waking in New York: Portrait of Allen Ginsberg (ca. 1996)
Mark Duer, baritone; Meredith Borden, soprano; Tyler Azelton, soprano; Sherrita Duran, soprano; Grigory Kalinovsky, violin; Jaram Kim, violin; Tania Askins, viola; Andrei Tchekmazov, cello; Rafael Agudelo, contrabass; Ulla Suokko, flute; Bill Ruyle, drums; Mustafa Ahmed, percussion; Elodie Lauten, synthesizer.
No recording dates or locations are given.
4TAY CD 4023 [66:32]

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In these days of the Internet and of fairly easy and inexpensive access to quality recording studios, many musicians and composers who would otherwise not be heard are able to get their material out before the public. That is the good news. The bad news is that many people who are not up to the task are also clogging the market with less than stellar efforts. Such is the case of this opera, of sorts, from the pen of Elodie Lauten, who according to the program note in the CD booklet is a major figure in the Manhattan new music scene. I am not sure that the news has gotten out much past the five boroughs as yet.

Again according to the program notes by Kyle Gann, Lautenís music is "perfect" an ideal Zen Buddhist wedding of text and music. Sure. Supposedly this music is the grand synthesis of a dozen or so styles of music making from the high Baroque to plainchant to rock and roll to gospel, all slavishly subservient to the almighty text. Right.

What we really have is a mess on our hands and for me, sixty-six of the longest and most excruciating minutes of listening that I have ever forced myself to sit through. Lauter does not seem to have a tune in her head, and the banal, weakly orchestrated rock band meets string quartet Ďorchestrationí is mind-numbingly dull. Texts are misaccentuated, and the vocal lines are so all over the place that there is no sense that the blunt, often humorous and sometimes shocking poems by Ginsberg have been given any other treatment than to be randomly set to strings of repetitive and trite note-spinning.

Mark Duer is a standout in the protagonistís role. His fine baritone is a pleasure to hear, but alas, he and all of his counterparts sing for sixty-six minutes and thirty-two seconds at one monotonous dynamic level: sorta loud. One of the sopranos (and since the booklet does not identify who is singing what I cannot single her out) has been given a task beyond her talent, and her strident, often over-stretched voice is quite an irritant.

This is a project that had potential, and there is certainly ample precedent for a kind of speech rhythm setting of lengthy and complicated texts. JanŠček, Purcell and Britten were all masters at this sort of thing. These long and often wordy poems, often simple and direct reflections of everyday life, interspersed with gleaming moments of transcendent observation, are deserving of more than this composer gives them. The overriding sense here is that Ms. Lauter simply assigned a pitch to each syllable in a sort of undefined manner, and when the text ran out so did the music.

This piece does not work at any level that I can find. Try as I may to be generous and find the good in most pieces, I just do not find much here. Better luck next time.

Kevin Sutton

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