Notes and Editorial Reviews
Tania León (cond);
Rajoe Darby (narr);
Dance Theatre of Harlem Ens;
Son Sonora Voices;
Son Sonora Ens;
ALBANY 1284 (67:36
Text and Translation)
Arenas d’un Tiempo.
David Starobin (gtr);
Tony Arnold (sop);
David Gresham (cl);
Renée Jolles (vn);
Joel Sachs, Cheryl Seltzer (pn);
Mari Kimura (vn);
Peter Ruzicka (cond);
BRIDGE 9231 (56:02
Text and Translation)
Warning! There is an allure in the music of Tania León that immediately grips the listener, and demands his undivided attention, drawing him into her distinctive world. This is not background music that can be listened to with one ear while the other is focused on something else. Although one might perceive influences from Harry Partch, John Cage, Peter Sculthorpe, Hans Werner Henze, and any number of the other innovative composers of our time, the artistic voice of León is utterly distinctive, and once one has listened to her music for any length of time, it will not be mistaken as the work of any other composer. Some of her works and their polyrhythmic characteristics are driven by the concept of the
a distinctive rhythmic pattern that “functions as a kind of metronomic device that is superimposed over the binary and ternary independent lines,” as the composer has written.
These two CDs seem to me to give a good overview of this composer’s work, containing as they do two substantial works of more than a half-hour’s duration each, and six shorter works, ranging from four to 13 minutes.
Both of the works on the Albany disc,
, are conducted by the composer, and were intended for choreography. Thus, they evince much more of a dancelike character than do the shorter works on the Bridge disc. The first composition,
a half-hour work for narrator and mixed percussion-rich ensemble, was written 35 years before its discmate. It sets 17 haiku, each of which is composed of pithy 17-syllable poems, according to Japanese tradition. For those who are not enamored of works that use narration, don’t let that turn you off from this work: The poems (here translated into English), are employed more as headers for each section of music than as integral parts of the music itself, which flows out of the essence of the poems.
Filling out the disc is
a setting of texts from prayers of the Yoruban Candomble religion. This explains the fact that the language of these texts doesn’t look remotely familiar to me (the first line is “E e e Oni Èsà arole”), even as someone who has handled records from about 135 countries. Fortunately, English translations are supplied. Like
uses a five-member percussion battery (in this case drawing upon Brazilian drummers). However, unlike
the texts form an integral part to this work, which ranges in moods from tonal
writing to hypnotic and obsessive Latin American-infused rhythms to lyrical writing for the string nonet. This is an utterly captivating work from beginning to end, and the musicians of the Dance Theatre of Harlem and Son Sonora ensembles play with precision, musicality, and skill. The blending of Brazilian and American cultures in
I see in some sense symbolized by the blending of these musicians in their performance of this work.
The Bridge CD,
, contains music in a number of different styles, none of which have such overt Latin flavors as are found on the Albany disc.
the first work on this CD, probably comes closest, not so much in the style of the music, but by the fact of its scoring for guitar, the quintessential Latin instrument. Its lines are extremely disjunct, but somehow suggest to my ears the tropical venue of its composer. León’s brief work is relatively simple in its effect (albeit likely not in its playability) and produces a direct appeal, enhanced by the secure playing of Bridge’s resident guitarist, David Starobin.
forms quite a contrast. This song cycle puts the singer through a maze of leaps, often in the form of upward swoops to a staccato high note. Kudos must be given to Tony Arnold, who negotiates the maze with seeming ease. Praise must also be given to the musicians of Continuum, who give a most convincing performance of very difficult music, which includes most innovative figurations that are impossible to describe in words. The five poems (“Wiring Home,” “Persephone Abducted,” “The Slave’s Critique of Practical Reason,” “In the Bulrush,” and “Then Came Flowers”) are the work of poet Rita Dove, and León’s setting spans the gamut from dramatic intensity to quiet resignation, from atonal lyricism to pointillism.
Her virtuosic writing doesn’t end here, but continues most dramatically in
for violin and interactive computer. The title comes from the filaments in neurons that carry impulses through the nervous system. The violin part has extended techniques, such as over-bowing that causes notes to sound
the range of the instrument (normally a G below middle C). The violinist Mari Kimura not only brilliantly and flawlessly executes all of the demanding technical challenges of the work, but also programmed the interactive Max/MSP software that allows the computer to react in real time to the most subtle nuances of the violinist. That’s quite a lot to expect of one’s performers, but Kimura was clearly up to the task. The result is one of the most dramatic and exciting works I’ve ever heard for my favorite instrument. Mind you, as all of León’s work, this is not music for the timid, or I should say, for those whose ears have not been stretched and tuned to the most advanced music of our era.
Arenas d’un Tiempo
(Sands of Time) is a trio dating from 1992, performed here by the group Speculum Musicae, which is composed of clarinetist Allen Blustine, cellist Eric Bartlett, and pianist Aleck Karis. This superb group may be heard on other Bridge releases, as well as on numerous other classical labels. The inspiration of the work came from a trip that León made to Rio de Janeiro, during which she noted “the striking change in the appearance of a beach’s sand when the wind disturbs its tranquility and re-forms the sand into a pattern of ripples.” I doubt that many, myself included, would hear this in the music, but it is no less an impressive achievement for that.
is a tree native to French Guiana, Brazil, Peru, Panama, and Venezuela. León’s composition with the name is written for piano duo, and is structured on a series of ostinati that first make their appearance 17 seconds into the work. These are alternated in the work with rapid-fire, fractured unison runs and sections of relative motionlessness. Quattro Mani, the piano duo of Susan Grace and Alice Rybak, provides a breathtaking performance of this challenging work.
The Bridge CD closes with an orchestral work,
The complexities found in all of the previous pieces on this CD reach their zenith here. It’s in the same league in that respect as Akira Miyoshi’s Concerto for Orchestra (one of my “desert island” pieces). Peter Ruzicka and the NDR Symphony Orchestra effect a triumph here that must be heard to be believed.
In summary, these two compact discs provide ample evidence that Tania León is one of the most innovative composers of our time. The rewards attending both of these discs will be ample indeed, and I am delighted to give them a very high recommendation.
FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
Works on This Recording
Haiku for Narrator and Mixed Ensemble by Tania León
Rajoe Darby (Narrator)
Dance Theatre Of Harlem Ensemble
Period: 21st Century
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