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Stratis MINAKAKIS (b. 1979)
Crossings Cycle (2015/2017) [20:43]
Gregory W. BROWN (b. 1975)
un/bodying/s (2017) [32:22]
The Crossing / Donald Nally
rec. 2017, St David’s Episcopal Church, Wayne, USA
INNOVA 998 [53:08]

This is a recording which has both a sublime beauty and a deeply confrontational aspect in its content. Stratis Minakakis’s Crossings Cycle consists of two sets of texts settings. Crossings Epigrams uses the words of Homer, Sophocles and Euripides in the original Greek to create “an elegy on things irretrievably lost.” Human dramas woven into mythological tales are transformed into moments of music that focus and heighten their tragic nature, such as “the moment where Odysseus tries to grasp the fleeting vision of his mother, which escapes like a ‘shadow’ or a ‘dream’.” There is a dream-like, sometimes nightmarish feel to this magnifying of emotional states, the voices drooping shapes repeating a piling-on the grief right up to “Hecuba’s lament over the fall of Troy,” with which the cycle concludes. There is a crossing over between the themes of Crossings Epigrams and Crossings, that takes words from T.S Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ to turn our minds to the plight of refugees from Syria and their struggles to reach the shores of Greece in entirely unsuitable and over-loaded craft. There is a subdued violence here, shrouded in ghostly and sparing phonetic stretching and layering of just a few words, but very few words are needed to convey the ‘painful relevance’ of these extreme circumstances: “if there were water and no rock…”

un/bodying/s is composed by Gregory W. Brown in a less avant-garde idiom, his subject of “an avalanche of culture enveloping a landscape” using poetry by Todd Hearon introducing harmonies and rhythmic gestures that have a comparatively romantic feel. Brown starts his booklet note on the piece with an outline of the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir in western Massachusetts. A valley with four entire towns was submerged in the process, and the four settings involve themes of displacement, the imaginary utopia of submerged Atlantis, and the symbolism of water’s cycle and society’s insatiable demand for its use. un/bodying/s is eclectic in its drawing on a variety of styles, from close-harmonies and atmospheric clustering of notes to unison and folk-music like passages, simpler two-part writing that always develops into something more sophisticated, moments of monastic quasi-religious luminosity and tonalities that are ever-restless, seeking but never quite finding resolution like the words they express. Brown’s word setting is highly effective as is the neatly articulated delivery of its performance here, but as ever it is truly valuable to have the texts printed in the booklet as they are here.

Vocal ensemble The Crossing has 24 voices, but with a keen ear for dynamic layering and balance the group always keeps a feel of transparent intimacy, helped by a superb recording that spreads the voices very nicely over the stereo mix, but also keeps a concert-hall perspective: not too close, and making good use of the acoustic. This excellent programme is well worth your time and careful consideration.

Dominy Clements