Aaron Jay KERNIS (b.1960)
Goblin Market (1994-5) [46:29]
Invisible Mosaic II (1987-8) [20:11]
Mary King (narration) [Goblin Market]
The New Professionals/Rebecca Miller
rec. St. Jude's, Hampstead, London, December 2008. DDD
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD186 [66:42]
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, 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 percussionists.
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.
Intoxicating, outrageous, unforgettable: one of the great musical works of art for theatre of the 20th century.