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David DICHIERA (b. 1935)
Letters And Fantasies
Four Sonnets
after verses by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1964/65): Time Does Not Bring Relief [3:34]; Loving You Less Than Life [3:16]; I, Being Born a Woman [1:46]; What Lips My Lips Have Kissed [4:56]
Ballade (2008) for solo piano [6:31]
Black Beads Three Songs for Mezzo-Soprano and Piano after verses by Richard Kubinski (1969) [5:39]
Fantasy for Violin and Piano (1963) [5:45]
Letter to Sarah for Baritone, Trumpet, and Piano after text by Maj. Sullivan Ballou (2015) [6:13]
Letter to Roxane for Cello and Piano, after theme from opera “Cyrano” (2017) [2:27]
Angela Theis (soprano)
Annalise Dzwonczyk (mezzo-soprano)
Yury Revich (violin)
Matthew Konopacki (baritone)
Berthold Brauer (trumpet)
Aleksey Shadrin (cello)
Ivan Moshchuk (piano)
rec. 2017, Jam Handy Film Studios, 2900 E. Grand Boulevard, Detroit, MI
INNOVA 979 [40:09]

After moving to Detroit in 1962, David DiChiera became a central figure in the musical life of the region and throughout the USA. He founded the Michigan Opera Theatre in 1971, was president of Opera America from 1979-83, was director of the Dayton Opera Association, founded Opera Pacific in California and established a new opera house for Detroit. Such a career would hardly seem to allow any time for composing, but his work has been widely acclaimed and his opera Cyrano has been performed successfully in three different productions.

As might be expected with this background, opera is the secret to all of these works, each with its ‘opera in miniature’ either implied or overtly expressed. The Four Sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay are themed around love, with the emphasis on its pain and anguish more than any sense of joy and reward. This is reflected in music that is eloquent and expressive, leaning on dissonances but maintaining both feet in tonality; pianistic effects and vocal extremes colouring the most crucial and poignant moments. Tenderness runs through the core of these settings, even where scorn sharpens the words of I, Being Born a Woman, and the rising drama of What Lips My Lips Have Kissed is both haunting and excruciatingly emotive in its extremes.

The dark moods of the Ballade for piano is a suitable postlude for these sonnets, its fantasy aspects creating a Lisztian narrative that “alludes to demonic elements akin to Dante’s Inferno.Black Beads sets the words of Richard Kubinski, a native of Detroit and young friend of DiChiera’s who died tragically not long after writing these poems. These sparing texts are in turn given expression in music whose bare bones are resolutely left exposed, making these three songs something of an exception in this programme.

The Fantasy for violin and piano is the earliest work here, and most representative of DiChiera’s neo-romantic style. Climaxes build with a clarity of intention, the tensions ratcheted up through rising pitch and intensity to create a genuine melodrama over which it is easy to imagine a black-and-white movie playing out its tragic tale. The muted trumpet at the opening of Letter to Sarah immediately calls to mind a feel of nocturnal jazz, but its calls further on make military associations clearer. The letter is an expression of love in the face of the dangers of war, its powerful message laid out with a clarity and openness that makes it more than memorable. The final short piece for cello and piano, Letter to Roxanne, takes its theme from DiChiera’s opera Cyrano, and indeed one of the last duets in the work. Love and loss take form in a melody of “genuine simplicity that we are lucky to find, if only once in a lifetime.”

The affection of pianist Ivan Moshchuk and his colleagues for David DiChiera and his music is ever present in this recording, their warmth battling against chilly conditions in the historic Jam Handy Film Studios in Detroit, once used by General Motors for making cartoons. The piano suffers a little in the cold but the sound quality is good, capturing the vocalist’s nuances and impressive range, as well as Yury Revich’s “Princess Aurora” Stradivarius violin. With nice illustrations, all sung texts included and nicely written notes by Ivan Moshchuk, this is an attractive release of some finely crafted music.

Dominy Clements



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