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Danielpour: Symphony No 3, First Light, The Awakened Heart / Schwarz, Seattle Symphony

Release Date: 05/29/2012 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559712   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Richard Danielpour
Performer:  Faith Esham
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 6 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DANIELPOUR First Light. The Awakened Heart. Symphony No. 3, “Journey Without Distance 1” Gerard Schwarz, cond; 1 Faith Esham (sop); 1 Seattle S Ch; Seattle SO NAXOS 8559712 (66:04)

This is a reissue of a recording previously available on Delos. Happily, Naxos has done almost nothing to ruin the Read more immediacy of Delos’s original sound quality with extra reverb, so the orchestral textures are clear and the musical impact strong.

Those familiar with Richard Danielpour’s aesthetic will need little encouragement to acquire this disc. These are all pieces in the more tonal and accessible style now sometimes called “the new Romanticism,” a style to which even former atonalists like Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Nancy Van de Vate have moved toward in recent years. The question with Danielpour’s work is not how much he was influenced by the Hanson-Copland-Harris school (which he was), but how well the music works, and in these pieces—as in his masterly opera Margaret Garner, which will probably never be recorded because of its deep-cutting libretto—it works very well indeed. First Light is not, as one might assume before hearing it, music of calm and mysticism, but rather music of tremendous energy and at times almost violence. The hard-hitting staccato chords reminded me so much of early Stravinsky, thus I was happy to discover in the liner notes that this was indeed one of Danielpour’s inspirations. The development takes place on two levels, one on the hard-hitting staccato chords and the other in the softer, bitonal string playing between them. This piece is in four sections played, as in the case of several Harris compositions, without a break, and in fact the second slow section, which arrives at about the 10: 30 mark, almost makes the music sound as if it precipitously dropped off a cliff into the ether. This is also music of great mystery and, I dare say, of mysticism.

The Awakened Heart, which followed First Light by two years, is described by the composer as “a mediaeval triptych, an altarpiece composed of three panels, each complete in itself but that together relate a larger narrative.” Again, the titles are somewhat deceiving, the quiet opening of the first section, “Into the World’s Night,” eventually bursting into an energetic passage recalls a street fight more than a placid walk in the park. Conversely, the second movement, “Epiphany,” really is quiet and reflective, largely featuring winds with soft, pizzicato strings. Eventually, a lyrical string passage enters, buoyed by the horns, yet although this movement is highly lyrical it does not quite touch on mysticism. The third movement, “My Hero Bares His Nerves,” is a moto perpetuo of bracing themes and fragments, including brief motifs from the previous two movements in altered states. A bit of percussion and a highly syncopated passage relates some of this music to Latin jazz.

The Third Symphony, composed in 1989, came to him very quickly, “with the sense of receiving it instead of willing it.” Played as a single large movement in two parts, its thematic structure and use of motor rhythms in the earlier portion has a strong relationship to both neoclassic Stravinsky and some of the symphonies of Harris, but with a more positive, uplifting feel to it than Harris’s metaphysical stoicism (some would say cynicism). Another abrupt change of mood introduces the soprano soloist at about the four-minute mark. Oddly, this vocal music is more atonal in character, with much wider intervals for the singer, and the lyric quality only lasts a few minutes. I am also sorry to say that the soprano soloist has both a wobble and terrible diction, so that I can’t make out a single word. There is no text in the booklet, although the notes indicate that she is asking that we “awaken from the dream of death and our own fearful existence and believe in a world of hope and love.” You can tell that this was written before the al-Quaida attacks or the “War on Terror.”

The music has violent interruptions of the soprano’s message, which gives it an odd duality of feeling. In her upper range, Faith Esham’s voice is not merely wobbly but strained and unpleasant to listen to. In a very real sense, she kills this performance for me and, in turn, the entire CD. That’s how unbelievably awful she is. And this is not the only thing; judging from the strutting, neoclassic choppiness of the ensuing passages, Danielpour should perhaps have not been content to compose this symphony in a mere 18 days; he might have been, perhaps, a bit more perspicacious in his honest assessment of what he had set down. To be perfectly frank, it sounds pompous, overblown for no particular reason. True, there are some further passages of great inspiration, such as the loud, swirling horns that unexpectedly lead into a lyric moment of great beauty; but there’s just something about this symphony that sounds episodic for no real musical or logical reason, so that in the end this piece emerges more as a mosaic of unmatched or poorly matched tiles that make little sense together. It pains me to say this as I am an ardent fan of Danielpour at his best, but this symphony is not one of his finer works.

I have had occasion to make some negative comments about other Gerard Schwarz recordings, either in terms of interpretation or, more commonly, the awful sound quality, but neither afflicts this recording. Schwarz’s performances are entirely convincing, dramatic and lyrical in turn, with not a single moment played unconvincingly. If your reaction to Esham’s singing and/or the quality of the symphony are more positive than mine, you will not be disappointed in acquiring this CD.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 3 "Journey Without Distance" by Richard Danielpour
Performer:  Faith Esham (Soprano)
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989; USA 
Date of Recording: 1991 
Language: English 
Awakened heart by Richard Danielpour
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1990; USA 
Date of Recording: 1991 
First light by Richard Danielpour
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1988; USA 
Date of Recording: 1991 

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