Richard DANIELPOUR (b. 1956)
First light (1988) [13.06]
The awakened heart (1990) [23.57]
Symphony No. 3 Journey without distance (1989) [29.01]*
Faith Easham (soprano)*
Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorale/Gerard Schwarz
rec. Seattle Opera House, 20 January 1991 (First light) and 13-15 October
1991 (other tracks)
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559712 [66.04]
Naxos’s investigation of the Delos back-catalogue proceeds apace. We are
now presented with three pieces by Richard Danielpour conducted by the ever-exploratory
Gerard Schwarz with the Seattle orchestra. Danielpour was in fact appointed
composer-in-residence with this orchestra in 1991, but the three pieces Schwarz
gives us here were written before that date. Danielpour clearly felt the need
to write these scores, not just to fulfil a commission or an obligation. The
results are delivered by Schwarz and the orchestra with full commitment and
plenty of passion.
Both the back of the CD and the booklet insert describe Danielpour as a “neo-romantic”.
There is certainly plenty of recycling of earlier styles going on here, but
not much of it could be frankly described as romantic with or without the “neo”
tag. The outer sections of First light call to mind rather the neo-classical
Stravinsky of the Symphony in C and the Symphony in three movements.
The influence of The rite of spring and The firebird can be heard
very clearly in both The awakened heart and Danielpour’s Third
Symphony. Following the original issue of this CD, Danielpour was apparently
given an exclusive contract with CBS/Sony - the first composer since Copland
and Stravinsky himself to be so distinguished, we are informed. More recent
issues of his music have appeared on other labels, so it seems that this exclusivity
has now lapsed. The composer’s own website has not been updated for some
years, and not all of the Sony CDs remain available so this reissue is valuable
in bringing Danielpour back to our attention.
The failure to provide the texts for the Third Symphony either in the
booklet or online must be counted against this release. The words are clearly
important, and despite Faith Esham’s excellently poised and always polished
singing it is not possible to distinguish much of them. Danielpour’s own
online website seems to be defunct, and the Schirmer website only gives some
short excerpts from the texts. They are hardly great poetry, but without them
the music of the symphony really doesn’t stand much of a chance. The text
for the second movement begins:
The journey to God is merely the reawakening
Of the knowledge of where you always are and what you are forever.
It is a journey without distance
To a goal that has never changed.
The music clearly echoes the sentiments of the words, but Esham manages to make
almost none of the words audible; and the chorus, when they enter at the end
of the piece, fare little better. The vocal writing throughout is highly approachable,
with some superbly judged climaxes, but we really need to know precisely what
everyone is singing about.
Apart from this, the music is well worth getting to know. Danielpour has established
quite a reputation in America, but this has not translated into the renown in
the rest of the world which has attended the music of John Adams for example.
Once the Stravinskian echoes are past, there is a fresh and responsive approach
to traditional musical vocabulary which strikes an immediate response from the
listener. Danielpour is not afraid to tackle big subjects: the text for the
Third Symphony is drawn from A course in miracles ‘scribed’
and anonymously published by Helen Schucman, a Columbia University professor
of medical psychology; her authorship, from dictation by an ‘inner voice’,
was not revealed until after her death. The climactic phrases bring an almost
Wagnerian expansiveness, which tax Esham’s basically lyric resources to
the limit - but apart from a generalised sense of ecstasy, we can understand
very little of the words that are being sung.
The purely orchestral First light and The awakened heart also
derive from deeply felt poetical models. The first is based on verses by Robert
Duncan, and its four sections contrast violent neo-Stravinskian passages with
some really effective quiet reflections which - if the gift for melodic distinction
were better marked - might be taken for Vaughan Williams. The booklet notes
tell us that the final section is based on two Gregorian chants, which serve
not as direct quotes but as the basis for the material of much of the work as
a whole and the “ultimate destination of the music’s journey”.
A chorale also serves as the basis for the second movement of The awakened
heart, entitled Epiphany. This is a really beautiful piece of writing,
with rhapsodic outpourings surrounding the melody itself. It is preceded by
a movement subtitled Into the world’s night - again the influence
of The rite of spring is most noticeable here, reflected through Bernstein
- perhaps with a hint of what Stravinsky maliciously called Bernstein’s
“tempo di hoochie-coochie”. The subtitle here comes from a phrase
from the existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger, and the final movement
My hero bares his nerves takes its title from a poem by Dylan Thomas.
This last recalls music from the earlier movements, “proceeding at breakneck
speed” (to quote again from Paul Schiavo’s booklet note) and once
again the spectre of Stravinsky is immediately apparent.
Danielpour deserves to be better known; for, despite the obvious stylistic debts
to Stravinsky, his individual sense of purpose and command of his technique
are highly impressive. We should be grateful to Naxos for rescuing these recordings
from oblivion, but we really do need the texts in music like the Third Symphony.
Could they not please be put on the company’s website?
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Full commitment and plenty of passion.