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Harold Blumenfled: Vers Satanique / Blumenfeld, Philips, Albert


Release Date: 08/12/2008 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1034   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Harold Blumenfeld
Performer:  Donnie Ray AlbertChristine Schadeberg
Conductor:  Joel Eric SubenHarold BlumenfeldPaul Phillips
Orchestra/Ensemble:  National Radio Orchestra of PolandSt. Louis Ensemble of EightVoices of Change
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 0 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BLUMENFELD Vers sataniques. 1 Carnet de damné. 2 Mythologies 3 Joel Eric Suben, cond; 1 Harold Blumenfeld, cond; 2 Paul Phillips, cond; 3 Donnie Ray Albert (bar); 1,3 Christine Schaderberg (sop); Read more class="SUPER12">1,2 Polish Natl RO; 1 St. Louis Ens of Eight; 2 Dallas Voices of Change 3 ALBANY TROY 1034 (60: 09)


Harold Blumenfeld, now in his mid-eighties, is a longtime St. Louis resident and has an extensive association with vocal music. Upon leaving Yale, where he studied with Hindemith, he coproduced the first American production of Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea and spent many years as a critic and writer on opera. As a composer, he has been drawn to the late 19th-century French poets Baudelaire and, especially, Rimbaud. Blumenfeld’s well-regarded opera Seasons in Hell (1992–94) recounts the life of Rimbaud, who renounced poetry at the age of 19, took up a disastrous career as a gunrunner in Africa, and died at 37. (The opera has been issued on an earlier Albany two-disc set.) Carnet de damné (“Notebook of a damned one”) is a setting of the final section of Rimbaud’s Saison en enfer.


Let’s begin there. It must be said that Blumenfeld is an accomplished composer. He knows the human voice intimately, and is a sensitive orchestrator. Stylistically, he works in an idiom of heavily chromatic atonality. The leaping, declamatory soprano part, with its wide intervals, also reflects an awareness of Boulez, as do the extreme registers of the piano and pointillistic use of percussion and harp. Blumenfeld’s setting is clear and effective, and exudes an atmosphere of unease without encompassing the full emotional range of the text. The composer in his booklet note describes the poem as “harrowing” and “alarming,” but his music never embraces such extremes. Perhaps Rimbaud himself has the explanation: “One must be absolutely modern,” he writes in a single-line stanza of the poem, whereas Blumenfeld’s idiom is historically familiar. While they may have lacked Blumenfeld’s close acquaintance with the French language and life-long study of the poetry, Britten and Henze unequivocally remained their “modern” selves when setting Rimbaud in Les illuminations and Being Beauteous respectively. The recording of Carnet de damné was made in 1989 and previously issued on a Centaur CD. Schaderberg’s performance is expressive and assured.


A similar niggling doubt over the composer’s borrowed language and too-respectful attitude to the poetry affects the major work here. Vers sataniques , for baritone, soprano, and full orchestra (2007), is an extended setting of three poems by Baudelaire. Densely chromatic harmonies and declamatory vocal lines (plus this particular combination of vocalists) bring to mind Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony (1923), and also recall Alban Berg, who set Baudelaire in translation in the concert aria Der Wein (1929). Unlike those composers, Blumenfeld fails to produce an immediate sense of the high and low points in the progress of the work. He spent years reworking this song cycle; I can’t help wondering if in doing so he sacrificed some of the spontaneity of his initial inspiration. Regardless of that, there is much detail to appreciate. No question that Blumenfeld is equally at ease with larger forces, and several moments make a memorable impression, usually when the orchestral texture is pared back. An example is the exquisite percussion writing that introduces and later punctuates the final poem “La vie antérieure.” Baritone Donnie Ray Albert sings beautifully, showing commitment and understanding; a pity we don’t hear him recorded more often. (He would be stunning in the Zemlinsky work.) Schaderberg’s vocalizing remains idiomatic, but over the 18 years between recordings the tone color of her high soprano has inevitably paled. Under Joel Eric Suben, the playing of the Polish orchestra is all that could be desired. The recording is full-toned and perfectly balanced, although in both French works the solo voice at one point recedes into a reverberant echo-chamber acoustic—an effect I find more sci-fi than poetic.


I have left little space for Mythologies , a setting of three poems by Derek Walcott. Suffice to say, the composer’s setting of English is as assured as it is of French; Albert is again in good form (this time in a reissue from 2000); and, incidentally, Dallas Voices of Change is an instrumental ensemble.


In spite of my caveats, this disc offers plenty to savor. Anyone interested in Baudelaire and Rimbaud will find it rewarding. Within his stylistic confines, Blumenfeld is a master.


FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

1.
Vers Satanique: no 1, Le jet d'eau by Harold Blumenfeld
Performer:  Donnie Ray Albert (Baritone), Christine Schadeberg (Soprano)
Conductor:  Joel Eric Suben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  National Radio Orchestra of Poland
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 10 Minutes 7 Secs. 
2.
Vers Satanique: no 2, L'horologe by Harold Blumenfeld
Performer:  Donnie Ray Albert (Baritone), Christine Schadeberg (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harold Blumenfeld,  Joel Eric Suben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  National Radio Orchestra of Poland,  St. Louis Ensemble of Eight
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 7 Minutes 26 Secs. 
3.
Vers Satanique: no 3, Interlude by Harold Blumenfeld
Performer:  Donnie Ray Albert (Baritone), Christine Schadeberg (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harold Blumenfeld,  Joel Eric Suben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Voices of Change,  National Radio Orchestra of Poland
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 0 Minutes 46 Secs. 
4.
Vers Satanique: no 4, La vie antérieure by Harold Blumenfeld
Performer:  Christine Schadeberg (Soprano), Donnie Ray Albert (Baritone)
Conductor:  Joel Eric Suben
Orchestra/Ensemble:  National Radio Orchestra of Poland
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 8 Minutes 18 Secs. 
5.
Carnet de damné: no 1, Adieu by Harold Blumenfeld
Performer:  Christine Schadeberg (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harold Blumenfeld
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Ensemble of Eight
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1987; USA 
Length: 14 Minutes 33 Secs. 
6.
Carnet de damné: no 2, Éternité by Harold Blumenfeld
Performer:  Christine Schadeberg (Soprano)
Conductor:  Harold Blumenfeld
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Ensemble of Eight
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1987; USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 43 Secs. 
7.
Mythologies: no 1, The Dream by Harold Blumenfeld
Performer:  Donnie Ray Albert (Baritone)
Conductor:  Paul Phillips
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Voices of Change
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 4 Minutes 48 Secs. 
8.
Mythologies: no 2, Europa by Harold Blumenfeld
Performer:  Donnie Ray Albert (Baritone)
Conductor:  Paul Phillips
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Voices of Change
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 7 Minutes 5 Secs. 
9.
Mythologies: no 3, Archipelagoes by Harold Blumenfeld
Performer:  Donnie Ray Albert (Baritone)
Conductor:  Paul Phillips
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Voices of Change
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 47 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Vers Sataniques: No. 1. Le Jet D'eau
Vers Sataniques: No. 2. L'Horloge
Vers Sataniques: No. 3. Interlude
Vers Sataniques: No. 4. La Vie anterieure
Carnet de Damne (Notebook of a Damned One): No. 1. Adieu
Carnet de Damne (Notebook of a Damned One): No. 2. Eternite
Mythologies: No. 1. The Dream
Mythologies: No. 2. Europa
Mythologies: No. 3. Archipelagoes I

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