VOGEL Things Fall Apart • Odekhiren Amaize (voice, narr); Todd Mueller (perc); Martha Thomas (pn); Angela Jones-Reus (fl) • ALBANY 1409 (58:32 Text and Translation)
“An opera about my day, today?” I mused as I picked up this CD right after my computer decided to blow a capacitor in its video card. No, nothing quite as mundane as that. The title, Things Fall Apart, comes from an English-language novel by Nigerian author ChinuaRead more Achebe, relating a story about Okonkwo, a leader and wrestling champion in his village. Through a series of unfortunate events, this once powerful and wealthy figure was brought to the point that he eventually took his own life.
The work, not exactly an opera given its modest forces and the fact that the solo vocal part combines singing and speaking, was commissioned in 2011 by Odekhiren Amaize, the Nigerian-born singer who studied right here in Bloomington under the recently departed and much-loved and lamented Camilla Williams, as well as with Margaret Harshaw. It is, of course, Amaize who performs it here.
Before I launch into a discussion of the music, given that Roger Vogel has had only a brief mention or two in these pages, a few words about him are probably in order. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, the composer completed his graduate studies in composition and theory at the Ohio State University, being awarded his Ph.D. in 1975. A prolific composer, Vogel has 140 works to his credit, and several have been awarded prizes (Roger Wagner Choral Composition Competition, National Saxophone Workshop Composition Contest, Delius Composition Competition, etc.) He has received commissions from many organizations in Georgia and elsewhere, and his music is published by 11 different firms.
From the very first notes of Things Fall Apart, I knew that this would be a fascinating and captivating work. Its neo-primitivistic opening, relentless in its driving drumming and overlaid with exotic melodic patterns in the flute, immediately creates a sense of anticipation in the auditor as to what will come next. But the work has its gentle moments too, for example, in the second movement that begins with spoken text, but soon yields to gentle sung phrases. Although this is a rather thoroughly tonal work, the composer proves that tonal musical language still has something to offer without a “reinvention of the wheel” taking place. There are 27 distinct sections which more-or-less alternate between sung and spoken vocal lines, and the work ends quietly and sadly with a description of the removal of the hapless man’s body from the tree from which he had hanged himself. The raw power of certain sections of this work is perfectly counterbalanced with the gentler, more lyrical portions, the result being a work of convincing structural unity. Things Fall Apart demands repeated hearings, and will offer rewards for many such.
Odekhiren Amaize, possessed of a most resonant and rich voice, seems perfect in this work. Of course, Things was written to his strengths, but his versatility even within the span of this hour-long work demonstrates that any number of different styles would fall under his métier. Even his Nigerian accent adds to the interest of this work. It simply would not achieve the same effect without it.
It’s not every CD I review wherein I feel compelled to single out the work of the recording engineer, but this is one. Gregory K. Squires has done a superlative job in capturing every nuance of the sonics to the point that one gains the illusion that the performers are all here in one’s listening room. Audiophiles may want to note that this CD will give your system a workout. Most enthusiastically recommended.