Stacy GARROP(b.1969) Silver Dagger, for violin, cello and piano (2009) [5:28]
In Eleanor's Words, for mezzo and piano (2006) [27:58]
String Quartet no.3 'Gaia' (2008) [33:49]
Buffy Baggott (mezzo) Kuang-Hao Huang (piano)
rec. Fay and Daniel Levin Performance Studio, WFMT, Chicago, 30
November 2009 (trio); 4-6 December 2009 (Eleanor); 3-5 February
2010 (Quartet). DDD
CEDILLE CDR90000122 [67:30]
This is the first CD dedicated entirely to the works of American
composer Stacy Garrop, who is Associate Professor of Composition
at the Roosevelt University in Chicago.
The disc opens aptly with an aperitif: Silver Dagger, for violin,
cello and piano, incorporates three variants of an Appalachian
folksong, from which comes the title. A simple, straightforward
work, but sultry too in its way, and played with poised passion
by the Lincoln Trio, for whom Garrop wrote the piece.
The other two works are far more substantial. Garrop's Third
String Quartet is subtitled 'Gaia', after the Greek goddess
of the earth - the second 'eco-quartet' released this year,
as it happens, following Ronald Corp's more modest String Quartet
no.1 'The Bustard' on Naxos (see review).
Each of the generally programmatic five movements depicts a
different aspect of the mythology, from the turmoil become pristine
beauty of 'Creation of Mother Earth' to the earthy rhythms of
'Dance of the Earth', and from the weeping and SOSes of 'Lamentation',
depicting humanity's relentless abuse of the planet, to the
extended finale, '... et in terra pax', in which a positive
outcome to humankind's so-called custody of Earth is wished
for, in appropriately ambiguous music - though the final bars
sound a lot like the planet's rainforest lungs finally giving
out. Written for and expressively played by the Biava Quartet.
The final work lends its name to the CD, and gave rise to the
curious jazz-style CD cover. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin
D, is the lady in question, and an appropriate choice, given
Garrop's academic residency! In Eleanor's Words takes some of
the former First Lady's words from her syndicated newspaper
columns, arranged chronologically from 1936 to 1961, giving
a brief but interesting personal view of unfolding pre- and
post-war history. The texts are prose, not poetry, and Garrop
sets them using a mixture of declamation, sprechstimme,
sprechgesang and orthodox singing. How convincing the
results are will depend a lot on individual sensibilities: American
audiences will probably find the cycle considerably more appealing
than most Europeans, because it sometimes shades into sophisticated-Sondheim-musical
territory, whose appreciative audiences in the Old World are
not most obviously found among aficionados of art music.
Nevertheless, Garrop's writing is undeniably imaginative, even
innovative. Californian mezzo-soprano Buffy Baggott's voice
is in some ways ideal for the job - for one thing, she does
sound eerily like a politician in the spoken parts! She recorded
Garrop's Ars Poetica, a setting of Billy Collins, with the Lincoln
Trio for another Cedille CD released in 2009, reviewed here.
This time she gives a better performance than reported there
in what is sometimes very difficult music, but her operatic
voice, breath control and idiosyncratic phrasing will not be
to everyone's taste. Kuang-Hao Huang, on the other hand, provides
a thoroughly polished accompaniment throughout - the piano music
sometimes calls for super-human feats of concentration and virtuosity.
The disc is beautifully recorded, and the CD booklet is exactly
how CD booklets should always be, thoughtfully and clearly laid
out, with as much information as the average listener needs,
no more or less. There are also a few unobtrusive photos for
good measure, everything printed on high quality paper - although,
given the message of Garrop's String Quartet, it is surprising
that no indication is given as to the eco-friendliness of the
source of that paper!
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