Notes and Editorial Reviews
Mr. Tambourine Man—7 Poems of Bob Dylan. Altered States:
JoAnn Falletta, cond; Buffalo PO
NAXOS 8.559331 (52:05
Text and Translation)
Yes, it is
Bob Dylan, of
Blowin’ in the Wind, Masters of War,
Chimes of Freedom
. These are some of the most famous
folk-rock songs ever written. It takes real chutzpah to completely ignore 40 years of ingrained familiarity and reset these lyrics as contemporary concert art songs. Only a fool or a genius would try such a thing. John Corigliano is no fool.
Let me pay Mr. Corigliano the highest compliment I can: I was so swept away by the power of these songs and the brilliance with which they illuminate Bob Dylan’s searing words that I quickly stopped thinking about the moxy it took to do this. While I find it hard to believe, as claimed, that Mr. Corigliano did not know the originals—how could anyone alive in the 1960s with a radio or friends have missed them?—it is pretty clear that he didn’t refer to them. The poetry itself occasionally dictates a certain rhythmic similarity, but the result is completely reimagined. In an interview on Naxos’s Web site, Corigliano says that he expects a sort of dual-listening experience, with both the original and the new playing through the listeners’ mind. For the most part, that did not happen to me. It’s not that these settings in any way replaced the originals. Rather, Corigliano’s music underscores and intensifies the poetry in a way that the original settings never attempted, so that each lyric begets a completely new and often more disturbing experience. This isn’t protest rally music; it is total immersion.
Stylistically, Corigliano is hard to pin down. He uses deeply expressive, essentially tonal melodies, but draws upon a wide range of modern musical resources to produce a uniquely communicative style. One may hear Barber, Berg, Bernstein, Weill, Irish ballads, or any number of other influences, but they are momentary—though “Clothes Line” does have some strong echoes of
Knoxville: Summer of 1915
throughout—and the styles are completely integrated into Corigliano’s strongly individual voice. In
Mr. Tambourine Man
, Corigliano has created a powerful anti-war song cycle with a narrative arch traversing ingenuousness, rising consciousness, rage, apocalyptic fear, and the triumph of principle, with a prelude of jaded worldliness and a hard-won blessing at the end. It is an exhausting but gratifying 37 minute experience. Lyric soprano Hila Plitmann assures this with her intensely dramatic performance, seconded by JoAnn Falletta and her excellent Buffalo orchestra. Much of the work is performed at a hushed, almost confidential level, but explodes frequently in fury or exaltation. The anger in “Masters of War” is particularly virulent. To accommodate the lighter “non-operatic” voice he thinks more appropriate, Corigliano specifies that the singer be amplified to assure text audibility at both dynamic extremes. Plitmann, who actually does project operatically at the climaxes—to great effect—
pulled forward by the sound engineers as if amplified.
If I have saved comment on “Three Hallucinations” to the very end, it is not because the work is any less good, only less extraordinary. Drawn from Corigliano’s inventive Academy Award-nominated score to Ken Russell’s 1980 science fiction film,
, the outer movements are taken directly from the accompaniment to two powerful religious hallucinations. The middle movement builds uneasily on a reference to the hymn
Rock of Ages
in the first movement. The music is eerie, disjointed, violent, and disquieting—hallucinogenic indeed. Once again, Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic perform superbly, and this serves as a worthy makeweight to the absolutely essential Bob Dylan cycle.
FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
Works on This Recording
Poems (7) of Bob Dylan "Mr. Tambourine Man" by John Corigliano
Hila Plitmann (Soprano)
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Length: 36 Minutes 18 Secs.
Notes: Arranger: John Corigliano.
Composition written: USA (2000).
Composition revised: USA (2003).
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