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’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.