Golijov Osvaldo Golijov: Yiddishbbuk. St. Lawrence String Quartet; Todd Palmer, clarinet. (EMI Classics 57356)
Worlds collide and coalesce in the music of Osvaldo Golijov. His roots are Eastern European and Jewish, but he was born and raised in Argentina. It's a highly combustible mixture, as this new release makes plain.
The title work on the release, written in 1992 for the St. Lawrence String Quartet (and memorably performed by that ensemble at the recent inaugural New Chamber Festival Baltimore), takes as its starting point evocative descriptions by Kafka about "a broken song played on a shattered cymbalon" and psalms "in the mode of the Babylonic Lamentations."
Golijov gives those images a compelling musical context by means of three concise movements that form commemorations - children who perished in the Terezin concentration camp; Isaac Bashevis Singer; Leonard Bernstein. The style is astringent, tense and dark much of the time, yet often quite affecting (especially at the end of the Singer movement, which suggests a serene cosmic landscape). The St. Lawrence ensemble offers a technically and emotionally potent performance of this fascinating score.
Things are equally impressive when the group is joined by the Ying Quartet and bassist Mark Dresser for Last Round (1996), a riveting memorial to modern tango master Astor Piazzolla that generates crackling heat, using some of Piazzolla's signature stylistic traits in the process. The Dream and Prayers of Isaac the Blind (1994), for clarinet and string quartet, brilliantly summons not just the klezmer spirit, but a sense of the whole Jewish experience through the centuries. Todd Palmer's virtuosic, multi-colored clarinet matches the St. Lawrence Quartet's expressive vibrancy note for note.
And from 2001 comes Lullaby and Doina, for flute, clarinet, bass and string quartet. Starting with exquisite references to the tenor aria from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, the piece goes on to combine Jewish and gypsy folk idioms in distinctive, emotive fashion. Palmer and flutist Tara Helen O'Connor are the partners here with the St. Lawrence players, whose innate intensity and tight ensemble work drive the entire disc.
* * * *
American Works for Organ and Orchestra: David Schrader, organist; Grant Park Orchestra; Carlos Kalman, conductor. (Cedille Records CDR 90000 063).
Just in time for Independence Day, this release from enterprising Cedille Records presents an attractive, substantive program of 20th century American music. It also offers several firsts - the first recording of the excellent Casavant Freres organ, installed in Chicago's Orchestra Hall in 1998; the first commercial recording by Chicago's Grant Park Orchestra (founded 1935); the first appearance on CD of a work by Walter Piston; and the world premiere recordings of works by Leo Sowerby and Michael Colgrass.
The remaining item on the program, Samuel Barber's Toccata Festiva, isn't exactly widely represented in the record catalogs, either. Written for the Philadelphia Orchestra and the then-new organ in the Academy of Music, this 1960 score makes up in sweep and vivid flourishes what it occasionally lacks in filling melodic material.
Piston's Prelude and Allegro from 1943, commissioned by the great E. Power Biggs, moves in potent fashion from sober reflection to a bracing burst of contrapuntal energy. Sowerby's Concertpiece from 1951 is likewise effectively constructed. This often deeply lyrical crowd-pleaser keeps organ and ensemble tightly fused; the orchestration is assured and colorful, complementing the organ's own array of tones .
In Snow Walker, composed in 1990, Colgrass attempts to summon the spirit of the Inuit people of the Arctic and one of the primary images in their culture. The Snow Walker, a spirit that represents death and rebirth, is conjured, along with the sounds of wolves, "throat-singing" (a fast-paced Intuit musical technique) and "The Whispering Voices of the Spirits Who Ride with the Lights in the Sky."
Things get a little self-conscious at times and, in the finale, even a little cutesy. But most of the writing is persuasive, and, ultimately, the piece succeeds both on an atmospheric level and as an unusual, stylish concerto for organ and orchestra.
Performances are dynamic across the board. David Schrader's solo playing has the stamp of authority. The Grant Park Orchestra, much valued in Chicago for its free summer concerts, makes a solid showing under the firm, sensitive direction of its principal conductor, Carlos Kalmar (who will succeed James DePreist next year at the helm of the Oregon Symphony).
* * * *