WALLACH The Nightwatch1. Alleycat Love Song2. Sin mañanas3. Lágrimas y locuras4. PAX2. Voices of the Iron Harp4. The Firefighter’s Prayer1. Original Voices5 •Read more1Sam McKelton (ten); 2Maria Therese Mattingly (sop); 3Isabelle Ganz (mez); 5William Trigg (vib); 5Gines Didier-Cano (bn); 1Elizabeth Rogers, 2Chie Watanabe, 3Christopher Vassiliades, 4Éva Polgár (pns) • 4TAY 4035 (58:10)
The present disc commemorates Wallach’s time as visiting professor of composition at the University of North Texas at Denton. This is the second recording of The Nightwatch to have come my way. I was positive about Stephen Alexander Carroll’s reading (with pianist Stephen Harlos) on another disc of Wallach’s vocal music on 4TAY records (Fanfare 36:4). Tenor Sam McKelton is marginally less convincing in the first song of The Nightwatch, his voice rather lacking body. The second song (“Assurance”) is more impressive, its bare textures and wide registral gaps capturing the ear. This latter is a tremendous song and forms the perfect introduction to Wallach’s art. One can hear her expert ear, the way she can achieve with economy of means exactly what she wants to achieve. It also acts as a reminder that the art of the Lied is far from dead.
The cat of the title of Alleycat Love Song is the composer’s own “magical cat and mini-muse.” Here, a light touch enables a beautifully drawn little miniature. Soprano Marie Therese Mattingly is most appealingly light herself and concludes with a most cute “meow.” If only it lasted longer than three minutes. Still, as the old adage goes, leave ’em wanting more…
More cattery emerges later in the disc, with the same performers tackling PAX, which uses words by D. H. Lawrence to “celebrate the spiritual life of Wallach’s cat,” as the booklet puts it. It is tender and lovely, shot through with innocence. Mattingly’s pure soprano is perfect for this song.
The longer (17 minute) Sin mañanas (Three Spanish Songs) is marvelously evocative, with guitar imitations on the piano and a pervasive sense of that melancholy that is so indigenous to the region. Christopher Vassiliades’s accompaniments are certainly worthy of mention here. The first song, “La guitarra,” is almost a concert aria in itself at some nine minutes duration. The vocal slides and elisions of “Soñando Sueños de Tango” are most appealingly performed by Isabelle Ganz, who acts as a reliable guide throughout. The all-encompassing sadness of “Los Ojos” is portrayed by textures of the utmost fragility. Bare lines make maximal impact, with Spanish infused gestures sounding as if from a dream.
This disc mixes vocal and instrumental music. The Làgrimas y locuras (Mapping the Mind of a madwoman, 2011) is, as the composer herself states in the booklet notes, a piece of Lisztian scope that attempts to construct the thoughts of a disturbed woman as she walks forever. Éva Polgár is a superb pianist who does the piece full justice, fully entering into the spirit of narrating a story while painting a distraught emotional state. The anguished, dissonant climax is powerful, although perhaps the recording could have demonstrated just a little more depth and bass. The other solo piano piece on the disc is Voices of the Iron Harp, a 1986 love song. The “iron harp” refers to the insides of the piano, a nice idea. This is Wallach in elusive mood. Polgár traces the piece’s gestures (largely derived from those of the late 19th-century piano literature, but the music of the French Impressionists is there too) with expertise.
The song The Firefighter’s Prayer (a setting of just that) was inspired by the events of 9/11. It injects a much needed simplicity into the recital at just the right spot, and here McKelton’s slightly reedy tenor seems more suited to the folkloric warmth of Wallach’s writing. Finally, a piece for the unlikely combination of vibraphone and bassoon. Original Voices, which references the Dies irae, is a fascinating specter of a piece, ghostly and elusive as a wisp of smoke. Fascinating.