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Sound Paintings

Yip / Lifchitz / Maves / Fire / Sherman / Hansen
Release Date: 02/23/2010 
Label:  North/South Recordings   Catalog #: 1052   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Max LifchitzDavid MavesEleanor CoryDinos Constantinides,   ... 
Performer:  Helen LinLisa Hansen
Conductor:  Max Lifchitz
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SOUND PAINTINGS Max Lifchitz, cond; North/South CO NORTH/SOUTH R1052 (66:52 Text and Translation)

YIP Shun (Lisa Hansen, fl). LIFCHITZ The Blood Orange (Norma Fire, nar). MAVES No, Nonet (Helen Lin, pn). CORY Read more O’Keeffe’s Flora. CONSTANTINIDES Reflections VII—To Music (Robert Sherman, nar)

One’s curiosity is immediately piqued by The Blood Orange . This piece for narrator and chamber orchestra (2006) tells the story of a family’s emigration from Poland to the United States in the 1920s. What makes this performance interesting (apart from the fact that the composer is conducting it) is that it is the parents of the narrator, Norma Fire, who are the family escaping Poland. So we are listening to a woman telling us about a period of difficulty—but also of hope—in the lives of her own mother and father.

The text, based on Life Stories of Norma Fire , has been fashioned into performing material by Kathleen Masterson. In the process, something strange has happened. It is as if the reworking of Fire’s words has damaged her connection to them. By which I mean, one could imagine Fire conversationally recounting this story with pathos, wit, continuously engaging the interest of every listener. Yet, in this context, she sounds detached from what must have been a highly emotional experience in her family.

Now, Fire is clearly a professional performer, so the refashioned words are properly recited and there is plenty of expression in the performance. This is no Steve Reich-style reportage overlaid onto the musicians. But she could be speaking about any two people. The music seeks to do no more than illustrate the text, which it does, but in a simple idiom that doesn’t match a story of Nazi persecution. As a result, at 17 minutes, The Blood Orange somewhat overstays its welcome.

Stephen Yip was born in Hong Kong in 1971, and now lives in the U.S. A modest man, I feel, judging by his Web site; he lists only five works on the page titled My Works (a selection) . He completed his concerto for flute and strings, Shun , in 2003.

Yip writes, “The piece was inspired by the Ying-Yang of Chinese philosophy. The first movement, Shun Feng , represents Yang (the sun). The writing is energetic, strong and agitated. … The second movement, Shun Shui, represents Ying (the moon). It begins quietly… An emotional and lyrical, hymn-like section follows.” Music from the first movement is then recapitulated to provide a brisk ending. I can report that Yip does indeed deliver this, but, as with most of what I’ve heard recorded on the North/South label, he does so within safe and narrow ranges. The agitation is definitely at the mild irritation end of the scale, the later emotion kept well in check, and the “virtuosic cadenza” may need a virtuoso to play it (I don’t know, I don’t play the flute), but my jaw didn’t drop. Nevertheless, I was happy to replay the work several times to check my findings.

Eleanor Cory’s O’Keeffe’s Flora is a three-movement suite depicting three flowers in their extraordinary realizations by the American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. A little googling brings up the images of the pictures and it was interesting to view each painting while listening to the corresponding piece. O’Keeffe’s pictures strike me as bold, lurid almost, extreme. Cory’s music reflects the pictures somewhat (insofar as that is possible in the first place); I liked the horn in Jack-in-the-Pulpit V : It seemed to echo the browns and slow curves of the picture. But the music has no commensurate boldness or luridness. The pictures need music such as early Messiaen to match them.

Cory, of course, has to come to terms with the problem faced by all contemporary composers—namely, what style to write in. Hers is an honest, modern-classical style. In themselves, the three pieces are perfectly acceptable, so perhaps it would be best not to do the googling after all.

O’Keeffe’s Flora is certainly the best of the bunch on this well-recorded disc.

FANFARE: Jeremy Marchant
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Works on This Recording

The Blood Orange, for narrator & orchestra by Max Lifchitz
Conductor:  Max Lifchitz
Written: 2006 
Venue:  Recital Hall, Purchase Performing Arts C 
Length: 17 Minutes 4 Secs. 
No, Nonet, for piano & orchestra by David Maves
Performer:  Helen Lin (Piano)
Conductor:  Max Lifchitz
Written: 2000 
Venue:  Recital Hall, Purchase Performing Arts C 
Length: 11 Minutes 28 Secs. 
O'Keeffe's Flora, for orchestra by Eleanor Cory
Conductor:  Max Lifchitz
Venue:  Recital Hall, Purchase Performing Arts C 
Length: 11 Minutes 20 Secs. 
Reflections 7 "To Music", for narrator & orchestra by Dinos Constantinides
Conductor:  Max Lifchitz
Written: 1994 
Venue:  Recital Hall, Purchase Performing Arts C 
Length: 10 Minutes 46 Secs. 
Shun, for flute & orchestra by Stephen Yip
Performer:  Lisa Hansen (Flute)
Conductor:  Max Lifchitz
Written: 2003 
Venue:  Recital Hall, Purchase Performing Arts C 
Length: 14 Minutes 48 Secs. 

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