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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Jack BODY (b.1944)
Poems of Love and War
Three Arias from ‘Alley’ (2010) [13:50]
My Name is Mok Bhon (2007) [12:30]
Palaran: Poems of Love and War (2009) [16:26]
Meditations on Michelangelo (1982, rev.2007) [19:18]
Poems of Solitary Delights (1985) [13:07]
David Greco (baritone and counter-tenor), Somara Ouk (recorded voice), Budi Surasa Putra (Javanese vocalist), Martin Riseley (violin), Amitai Pati (tenor), Robert Easting (narrator)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Young
rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 28–30 April 2011
NAXOS 8.573198 [75:43]

Jack Body is one of New Zealand's leading composers. His fascination with Asian traditional music has had a profound impact on his compositions, which often tell 'dark stories of repression and unjust political imprisonment' (New Zealand Listener). Body's opera Alley recounts the extraordinary life of Rewi Alley, whose powerful experiences, living in China for sixty years from 1927, are reflected in these specially orchestrated arias. The three Arias here are reflections by Rewi, haunted by memories. The orchestration is powerful with Chinese influences and very clearly enunciated by David Greco with some impressive counter-tenor singing in the third piece. The notes are invaluable in explaining the subjects based on events in Alley's life although it would have been good to have had the words. Britten is mentioned as a possible influence and he too was affected by China.

My Name is Mok Bhon references Cambodian traditional music to express the trauma and anguish of the Khmer Rouge years. There are spoken words at the beginning and the end. These are by Somara Ouk as Mok Bhon, one of the 14,000 victims of Pol Pot. The music is a funeral song and uses Cambodian instruments as well as the orchestra. I really find it hard to describe this piece but it is certainly atmospheric and conveys the composer’s sadness at the mass slaughter.

Palaran: Poems of Love and War draws on the subtleties of Javanese gamelan and traditional vocal styles. The composer advises that the texts are drawn from tradition and that they juxtapose images of love and pity. The booklet helpfully provides text but frankly I found this a hard listen with no real structure. The vocalist was unappealing. Like several pieces on the disk I felt the music would benefit from visual input.

Meditations on Michelangelo follows. This is scored for solo violin and orchestra and is more accessible than the previous works. This sadly doesn’t mean that it has great depth although it’s clear what the composer is trying to convey. The work is based on an earlier setting for two female voices of the love sonnets of Michelangelo, which honour male beauty and lament the ravages of age. The music seems to me to lack true originality and the attractive quality that would encourage repeated listens. I see that when this was performed in New Zealand in April with the same violinist, Martin Riseley. The poems themselves were read by David Groves and I think this would have worked well here.

Poems of Solitary Delights give a musical context to Japanese poet Tachibana Akemi's light-hearted meditations on solitary pleasures. The English translation, narrated in a warm manner by Robert Easting, is in contrast to the rather formless music although it does use some interesting instrumentation.

This disc is best described as an acquired taste and in general I found it lacking in appeal. The ideas behind the subject matter are interesting but by and large fail to deliver.

David R Dunsmore