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Innocence Lost - Debussy, Berg, Currier, Hyla, Tredici, Etc / Nessinger, Golan

Release Date: 04/14/2009 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1113   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Claude DebussyEleanor SandreskyJorge MartínSebastian Currier,   ... 
Performer:  Jeanne GolanMary Nessinger
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 6 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

INNOCENCE LOST—THE BERG-DEBUSSY PROJECT Mary Nessinger (sop); Jeanne Golan (pn) ALBANY TROY 1113 (66:15 Text and Translation)

DEBUSSY Chansons de Bilitis. SANDRESKY Voyelles . MARTIN La Soga. CURRIER The Nymphs Are Departed. BERG Read more 7 frühe Lieder. DEL TREDICI On learning on the clearest night only 6000 stars are visible to the naked eye. ROTHMAN The Rape of Ophelia. WEESNER Distant Heart. KERR Everyfrigginthing. HYLA Soneto de amor LXXXI. CIPULLO A White Rose. MOE She Goes Her Spacious Way

This is an extremely creative and literate production. Soprano Mary Nessinger and pianist Jeanne Golan took as “templates” two song cycles from the cusp of the 19th to 20th centuries, Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis and Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder , and then asked 10 contemporary composers to write songs that responded to each number in the original cycles. The results are stimulating, often engaging, but perhaps not more than the sum of the parts. When one examines the original texts and those the living composers chose to “echo” them, one does see a great deal of interplay. Every composer obviously took up the challenge with seriousness and good humor. And many of the songs are musically attractive and/or memorable. I found David Del Tredici’s breathless nursery-rhyme setting of a meditation on infinity to be sweet, poignant, and deliberately over-the-top, as is usually the case in his work. Joe Kerr has by far the most “extreme” stylistic work, which is a very convincing evocation of a Gershwin brothers’ song, with lyrics that seem to have been written by a contemporary Brooklyn hipster. Jorge Martin goes overboard in another direction, with extravagant Latinisms. Lee Hyla sets Neruda within a spacious realm of flickering atonal gestures that are calming rather than expressionistic.

The new “cycles” are distinctly postmodern in that they swing wildly from one voice/style/language to another, dependent on the profile of each composer. This may not create great coherence, but it also allows for surprise and creative friction. Beyond the composers’ response to the text, I don’t feel as strong an attempt to reinterpret Debussy’s or Berg’s actual music in the new pieces. Eleanor Sandresky’s Rimbaud setting evokes aspects of impressionist practice most evidently, but for my money, the real bull’s eye is Sebastian Currier’s setting of T. S. Eliot’s “The Nymphs Have Departed” in response to Debussy-Louÿs’s “Le tombeau des Naïades.” This piece not only suggests the death of mythologies in a modern age (referring to the same mythological being as the original), but the music is plaintive, chant-like, somber, almost archaic, in a way that seems a direct descendant of Debussy without quoting him.

While not as obviously connected, it does strike me that most of these pieces do reflect a certain connection to the previous fin de siècle , in that their language seems to mix aspects of tonal Romanticism with modernist chromatic expressionism. Cipullo, Moe, Del Tredici, and Martin tend more towards the former; Rothman, Weesner, and Hyla tend towards the latter. The lines aren’t hard and fast, though; there’s always blending between the elements, and some feel a little further afield in different ways (Sandresky, Kerr, and Currier, as noted above). But such distinctly late-20th-century developments as improvisation, polystylism, technological interfaces, indeterminacy, serialism, and minimalism are all absent. Does it suggest an “old-is-new” Silver Age sensibility, or is it just the effect of bringing these particular composers into the project? Or maybe a reflection of the performers’ tastes? Questions raised, but I don’t have any definitive answer—nor maybe should I.

The performances are exquisite. I’d first heard Nessinger in a Lee Hyla disc a few issues back, and was stunned by her theatrical instincts and risk taking. In this recital, her diction is flawless, and she can shift vocal color and delivery (including degree of vibrato) subtly or dramatically to fit the interpretive needs of each piece. Only her vocal color unsettles me a little: it can be hollow, a little “fluty” at times, and sometimes slightly frayed around the edges. I can’t quite decide for myself if this is a flaw or just an idiosyncrasy, and frankly, her intelligence and musicality are such as to make this quibble seem petty. Jeanne Golan is a superb partner in the project, and writes highly literate program notes to boot.

I know I may sound a little hesitant here, but this is a substantial and adventurous undertaking, beautifully realized, and always thought provoking.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Chansons de Bilitis for Speaker and Chamber Ensemble by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Jeanne Golan (Piano), Mary Nessinger (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1900; France 
Voyelles by Eleanor Sandresky
Performer:  Mary Nessinger (Mezzo Soprano), Jeanne Golan (Piano)
La Soga by Jorge Martín
Performer:  Mary Nessinger (Mezzo Soprano), Jeanne Golan (Piano)
The nymphs are departed by Sebastian Currier
Performer:  Mary Nessinger (Mezzo Soprano), Jeanne Golan (Piano)
Early Songs (7) by Alban Berg
Performer:  Mary Nessinger (Mezzo Soprano), Jeanne Golan (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1905-1908; Austria 
On learning on the clearest night only 6000 stars are visible to the naked eye by David Del Tredici
Performer:  Mary Nessinger (Mezzo Soprano), Jeanne Golan (Piano)
The rape of Ophelia by Daniel Rothman
Performer:  Mary Nessinger (Mezzo Soprano), Jeanne Golan (Piano)
Distant heart by Anna Weesner
Performer:  Mary Nessinger (Mezzo Soprano), Jeanne Golan (Piano)
Everyfrigginthing by Joe Kerr
Performer:  Mary Nessinger (Mezzo Soprano), Jeanne Golan (Piano)
Soneto de Amor no 81 by Lee Hyla
Performer:  Mary Nessinger (Mezzo Soprano), Jeanne Golan (Piano)
A white rose by Tom Cipullo
Performer:  Mary Nessinger (Mezzo Soprano), Jeanne Golan (Piano)
She goes her spacious way by Eric Moe
Performer:  Jeanne Golan (Piano), Mary Nessinger (Mezzo Soprano)

Sound Samples

3 Chansons de Bilitis: No. 1. La flute de Pan
3 Chansons de Bilitis: No. 2. La chevelure
3 Chansons de Bilitis: No. 3. Le tombeau des naiades
La Soga
The Nymphs are Departed
7 Fruhe Lieder: No. 1. Nacht
7 Fruhe Lieder: No. 2. Schilflied
7 Fruhe Lieder: No. 3. Die Nachtigall
7 Fruhe Lieder: No. 4. Traumgekront
7 Fruhe Lieder: No. 5. In Zimmer
7 Fruhe Lieder: No. 6. Liebesode
7 Fruhe Lieder: No. 7. Sommertage
On Learning On the Clearest Night Only 6000 Stars Are Visible to the Naked Eye
The Rape of Ophelia
Distant Heart
Soneto de Amor No. 81
A White Rose
She Goes Her Spacious Way

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