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Invocations - Music By Dalit Hadass Warshaw

Warshaw / Warner / Momenta Quartet
Release Date: 01/11/2011 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1238   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Dalit Hadass Warshaw
Performer:  Wendy WarnerDalit Hadass WarshawRe'ut Ben Ze'ev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Momenta String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

WARSHAW Desert Call. 1 Transformations 3,4. Variations for Solo Piano, “The Dreidl 2.” Fable for String Quartet 4. Kiddush ha-Levanah. 2,5 Nizk’orah for 2 Theremins & Piano 2,3 Read more class="SUPER12">1 Wendy Warner (vc); Dalit Hadass Warshaw ( 2 pn/ 3 theremin); 4 Momenta Qrt; 5 Re’ut ben Ze’ev (s) ALBANY 1238 (67:13 Text and Translation)

Dalit Hadass Warshaw was born in 1974 and began studying piano with her mother at age three. She began composing a year later, writing her first orchestral work at age eight, for which she became the youngest winner of the BMI Award. She later studied at both Columbia University and Juilliard, where she obtained her doctorate in music in 2003. Among her composition teachers were Milton Babbitt, David Del Tredici, and Samuel Adler. Her awards include a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, five Morton Gould ASCAP Foundation grants, and a Fulbright Scholarship to Israel.

As a pianist, Warshaw has performed as both a soloist and chamber performer, but more interesting to me are her private studies on the theremin with none other than Clara Rockmore. She is currently on the composition faculty of the Boston Conservatory, having previously taught orchestration at the Juilliard Evening Division. She was also visiting professor at Middlebury College and composer-in-residence at Interlochen and the Bowdoin International Music Festival. This is the first CD issued of her own works.

Desert Call is a dark, restless, moody piece for solo cello. Warshaw claims both the cello suites of Bach and Chopin’s Nocturne in E Minor as influences. The mysterious central portion of this work alternates light pizzicato with a few sustained notes, giving the effect of restlessness and uncertainty. The searching melody that follows, though also peppered occasionally with pizzicato, has an almost Sephardic quality to it, though sprinkled with half-step chords (influenced, Warshaw states, by “the Mediterranean-influenced augmented second”). These juxtaposed styles and moods continue into a restless final section, which ends on an unresolved high note.

Conversely, Transformations is a serene, gentle work combining theremin and string quartet. The latter has the opening statement, a melody not quite grasped, and when the theremin enters it is not entirely a shock: It sounds almost like a high cello, despite its characteristically piercing quality. The theremin leads with the melody in the central portion, with the string quartet playing around it as a sort of counterpoint commentary. Descending minor string chords break off and re-emerge; the music pauses now and again; then the tonality shifts in and out of major. A high note from the theremin brings the piece to a close.

The “Dreidl” Variations are completely playful, both the broken melody and its equally broken chording meant to reflect, as Warshaw puts it, “the off-kilter reeling” of the toy. She combines several musical styles to reflect the various reflective images of a spinning dreidl before falling for good to the tune of the Dies irae, though the listener can hear that the top starts and stops quite a few times in the course of this piece.

Fable is described by the composer as a mischievous scherzo influenced by Mahler, Strauss, Bartók, and the Jewish “Kedushah” blessing, the latter “uttered rather strangely by a Greek chorus of crows.” Thus, the music is cast as a mixed sound satire of tritones and major sevenths. She describes the cadences closing the piece as a “tongue-in-cheek allusion to Haydn’s ‘Joke’ Quartet.” I personally hear it as closer to Bartók than Strauss, with restless, often unresolved chords that give it a tonally unbalanced quality.

Kiddush ha-Levanah is based on a Jewish rite in which members of the congregation, dressed ceremoniously and anointed in oils, gaze upward, address the moon, and even dance before it as they leave the synagogue. Warshaw claims this rite is essentially pagan in character as “addressing an object is foreign within Judaism.” The text juxtaposes various moods from trancelike to expressions of love, yearning, and finally a celebratory frenzy. Warshaw takes her cue for the music from the words but, as we have seen, juxtaposition of moods is one of her compositional hallmarks. It begins, startlingly, with a crashing chord cluster in the low range of the piano, the opening lines spoken by the soloist over restless music. She only begins singing at the line “Blessed are You, Adonai,” a continuously restless melody. Sadly, Re’ut ben-Ze’ev has an unsteady wobble that mars her effectiveness as a singer; though the tone is pretty, I find her difficult to enjoy. Modern vocal music of this sort needs, at least, a steady vibrato such as Cathy Berberian’s, at best a pure tone such as Bethany Beardslee’s or Teresa Stich-Randall’s. Some of ben-Ze’ev’s soft singing is steady, and there is one loud note in her midrange that comes out well, but that is about it. Expressively, however, she does a splendid job reflecting the oddly contrasting moods of the piece, which do indeed include some lyrical moments. By and large, it is difficult for me to judge whether or not I like this piece; overall, it seems far too angular, even ugly, for its intended subject.

Warshaw, overdubbing herself here on piano and two theremins, performs Nizk’orah, originally written for theremin, cello, and piano, in a studio tour de force . The instruments used are Clara Rockmore’s theremin and Robert Moog’s 91W, his replica of Clara’s theremin built for Warshaw in 1991. Reading her description of the piece as referring to some of Rockmore’s best-known recordings, one wonders if she conceived the piece in this format and not necessarily with a cello in mind. Again, as in Transformations, Rockmore’s instrument is played more like a cello, Moog’s instrument more like a viola or violin. Snippets of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise and Saint-Saëns’s The Swan can be heard, yet the primary material is bitonal and tone-clusterish, the piano darting in and out of the long theremin lines in off-rhythm punctuations. This makes sense, as the piece is based on the Hebrew prayer “Yizkor,” recited on Yom Kippur to remember those who have died. This is Warshaw’s elegy for Rockmore, her friend and mentor from 1980 until the latter’s death in 1998. Once through passages of great anguish, the music dissolves into thin air with a quiet finish played on piano alone.

This is a very special CD that may not appeal to all listeners, but I highly recommend it (despite my reservations about Kiddush ha-Levanah ) as a wonderful introduction to a new and unusual compositional voice.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Desert Call by Dalit Hadass Warshaw
Performer:  Wendy Warner (Cello)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Transformation by Dalit Hadass Warshaw
Performer:  Dalit Hadass Warshaw (Theremin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Momenta String Quartet
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
The Dreidl Variations by Dalit Hadass Warshaw
Performer:  Dalit Hadass Warshaw (Piano)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Fable by Dalit Hadass Warshaw
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Momenta String Quartet
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Kiddush ha-Levanah by Dalit Hadass Warshaw
Performer:  Re'ut Ben Ze'ev (Soprano), Dalit Hadass Warshaw (Piano)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Nizk'orah by Dalit Hadass Warshaw
Performer:  Dalit Hadass Warshaw (Piano), Dalit Hadass Warshaw (Theremin)
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
Notes: Scored for piano and two theremins. 

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