Judith Lang ZAIMONT (b.1945)
Chroma - Northern Lights
(1985) [10:33]
Symphony No.2, Remember Me (2000) - Ghosts [12:15] and Elegy for strings [10:07]
STILLNESS - Poem for Orchestra (2004) [20:00]
Robert Marecek and Josef Skorepa (violins)
Slovak National Symphony Orchestra/Kirk Trevor
rec. 8, 9, 11, 12 September 2008, Slovak National Radio, Bratislava, Slovakia. DDD
NAXOS 8.559619 [52:26]
Zaimont’s music is, according to the notes in the insert, “… often cited for its immediacy, dynamism and palpable emotion. Her largest ensemble works especially capture her expressive strength … employing a wide, nuanced palette of instrumental colors used to clarify her characteristic rich and imaginative textures.”
Don’t you just love the idea of a “nuanced palette of instrumental colors” being used “to clarify characteristic rich and imaginative textures.”? It might better have been said that Zaimont uses a rich orchestral palette and her orchestration is viably colourful.
Chroma - Northern Lights is a well crafted work, but, despite its obvious energy and the composer’s delight in instrumental colour - her nuanced palette obviously at work here - there doesn’t appear to be any real personality here. It’s all very pleasing but I’ve heard it all before - especially in the larger orchestral works of Alun Hoddinott.
Ghosts, again according to the notes, “visits with six other composers, all commingling in a mercurial structure where one morphs into another in unexpected ways.” One of the six composers named is Benjamin Britten and the piece begins with an unashamed quote from the opening of the Tennyson movement from that composer’s Serenade, op.31. Thereafter, the music changes direction and mood rapidly, and Zaimont creates a kaleidoscope of sound. It’s quite a thrilling piece and obviously difficult to play as the orchestra, at one point, is so obviously under strain that there is a scrappiness to the performance. The Elegy for strings (which incorporates parts for two solo violins) is a much more satisfying work - deeply felt and without any histrionics. It has a British string music feel - the British have been especially successful in writing for strings, from Elgar, the Introduction and Allegro, Tippett, the Double Concerto and Corelli Fantasia right up to the present day and Howard Blake’s Month in the Country Suite, John McCabe’s Concertante Variations on a Theme by Nicholas Maw and Maw’s own Life Studies. It turns out that, according to the notes, the overt Britishness in this music is entirely due to the fact that the composer’s aunt was “… of British heritage.”
The final work, STILLNESS, is “… the fruit of Zaimont’s study of the works of Morton Feldman and Frederick Delius, and her inquiry into how each manages the art of ‘staying in place’ even as their music progresses”. All well and good, but Feldman and Delius were two of the most unique voices in 20th century music and how they did what they did was inimical to themselves - think of Feldman’s Coptic Light and Delius’s On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring - both stay in the place in which they started but travel a big journey. Zaimont’s is an interesting idea but she creates a work which doesn’t stay in place for there is far too much forward movement and momentum; there is also a visit with Tippett at one point! Overall, this is an interesting work for it shows what the previous pieces fail to show: that here is a composer who can think her own thoughts and carry them out successfully.
The notes in the inlay don’t do Zaimont any favours for I was led to believe that here was a major talent screaming to be heard. Certainly Zaimont has a talent - STILLNESS alone proves that - but no amount of pretentious prose can elevate the music from the position it now holds. This music is worth hearing but, as I often find in recent music, there isn’t sufficient personality in it to make one wish to return to it. However, there is enough worthwhile material to make me want to hear more of Zaimont’s music, perhaps on a smaller scale.
Bob Briggs