Aaron Jay Kernis's music has been reviewed a few times in recent
years on Musicweb International, as more of it finds its way
onto CD - here,
and most recently here,
for example. It has never failed to impress the reviewer.
This latest release consists of two of Kernis's older works.
Invisible Mosaic II is the lesser piece, though through
no fault of its own. It is scored for 17 players, but several
more instruments - the two percussionists are called on to play
an array of instruments. Kernis was inspired by late-Roman mosaics
in Italian churches to analogously construct a vivid sonic picture
using musical fragments. The result is a bustling, noisy maelstrom
of a work - not lovely in the way a Roman mosaic is, by any
stretch, but a memorable exploration of colour and texture nevertheless.
Kernis has, not surprisingly, also written an Invisible Mosaic
I, for four instruments, and an Invisible Mosaic III,
for full orchestra; this latter reviewed here.
The more recent Goblin Market is a setting of Christina
Rossetti’s notorious poem, written in 1859, telling the story
of two sisters and their encounters with goblin men and their
"forbidden fruit". At a deeper level the poem may
or may not be about proto-feminism, the nascent advertising
industry, or feminine sexuality. Whatever one's interpretation,
there is no question that some of the imagery still has the
power to shock today; Rossetti's poetry is evocative, provocative
and erotic, and it is no wonder that the Victorian public were
aghast at such barely-concealed titillation.
Commissioned by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Goblin
Market is scored for a preferably female narrator, five
woodwind, four strings, horn, trumpet, piano and two multi-instrument
With these forces, through his masterly manipulation of orchestral
colouring, rhythm, leitmotif etc, Kernis magnificently realises
a perfect union of music and poetry, from Part II, Scene 2,
"Laughed every goblin when they spied her peeping",
a truly awesome, epicurean crescendo of sensual poetry and orgiastic
sounds - surely one of the most spellbinding passages in all
music - right down to the deliberately cheesy exuberance of
the final scene, "She cried 'Laura', up the garden"
and the Epilogue.
The CD booklet is first-class, with detailed notes, biographies
and the full text of Rossetti's poem. Some background hiss and
hum is evident in the quieter passages of music, as is the occasional
rumble of distant traffic, but overall the recording is generally
excellent - all instrumentalists can be individually picked
out. The New Professionals and their conductor Rebecca Miller
sound very comfortable in this often forbidding music. Mary
King's voice in Goblin Market sometimes seems too close
and a shade too loud, and initially her characterisation of
the goblins seems absurdly non-malevolent, almost comical. But
King was chosen for the London world première in 1995, and she
becomes more and more convincing as the story unfolds.
And what a story! Intoxicating, outrageous, unforgettable: it
is no exaggeration to say that Goblin Market is one of
the great musical works of art for theatre of the 20th century.