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Daniel Asia: Of Songs & Psalms

Asia / Pilsen Philharmonic / Kawamoto
Release Date: 01/10/2011 
Label:  Summit Records   Catalog #: 579   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Daniel Asia
Performer:  Chris Pedro TrakasRobert Swensen
Conductor:  Koji Kawamoto
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Czech Nonet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 54 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ASIA Symphony no. 5. Nonet Koji Kawamoto, cond; Pilsen PO; Chris Pedro Trakas (bar); Robert Swensen (ten); New Czech Song; Czech Nonet SUMMIT DCD 579 (54:11 Text and Translation)

I have long admired the music of Daniel Asia, who has always seemed to me to have a compositional voice at once possessed of individuality and profundity. Like Fanfare colleague Jerry Dubins, who is quoted on the tray card, I have yet to hear a work of this composer that hasn’t Read more moved me. That conviction is but solidified with my hearing of the CD in hand, containing as it does two major works. In his Fifth Symphony, Asia returns to further investigate his Jewish identity, an exploration that he commenced relatively recently in his Celebration for baritone, chorus, brass, and organ, from 1988. The work presented here bears the subtitle “Of Songs and Psalms,” and is scored for solo bass-baritone, tenor, and orchestra. The epithet “symphony” is used rather loosely in the work, as it contains not so much movements as songs, of which there are 15, strung together to form a cycle. Works such as Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony seem to be models.

Asia draws his texts from the poetry of American Paul Pines and Israeli Yehuda Amichai, as well as from the Psalms. The composer states that these texts together comprise “an American Jewish experience, a modern Israeli experience, and the timelessness of the literature of the Jewish Bible, which provides the foundation that unites these different views of Jewish life in the 21st century.” One hardly needs to be Jewish to appreciate either the texts or the music, however, any more than he would need to be in order to love (as I do) The Jewish Song of Moses Pergament or Ernest Bloch’s Sacred Service. At the core of this work is man’s uneasy place in the universe. The music correspondingly broods and pleads in its underscoring the drama of the texts, and does so without ever descending into the maudlin. Lyricism is never very far from the forefront of the composer’s voice, and so stylistically the work will pose few problems even to those whose exposure to contemporary idioms has been minimal.

Soloists Chris Pedro Trakas and Robert Swenson are both masters of their art, enhancing both the drama and the lyricism of the texts. Their voices not only are well-suited to this music, but ideally complement each other. The chorus and orchestra also sing and play with finesse and considerable musical expression. I had occasion to hear a concert given by the Pilsen Philharmonic about a dozen years ago, and the orchestra on this CD sounds several leagues better than the community-orchestra quality that I recall from that concert.

Asia’s Nonet is cast in six movements, and to these ears is more rhapsodic and less tonally centered than the symphony. This is not to say, by any means, that it is an atonal work. The odd-numbered movements are all very brief—less than a minute each—and all treat the same material in different ways. The even-numbered movements are more substantial and run the gamut from a set of variations to an adagio to a concluding all-out presto . Formed in 1924, the Czech Nonet has proven itself in its many recordings to be a top-flight ensemble, and the group maintains its high performance standard in this recording. With Summit’s excellent recorded sound and presentation, this release is a worthwhile addition to the recorded legacy of Daniel Asia and recorded contemporary music in general, and as such, certainly deserves a place in your collection.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 5 by Daniel Asia
Performer:  Chris Pedro Trakas (), Robert Swensen ()
Conductor:  Koji Kawamoto
Length: 36 Minutes 34 Secs. 
Nonet, for ensemble by Daniel Asia
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Czech Nonet
Length: 14 Minutes 7 Secs. 

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