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David Del Tredici: Two Song Cycles / Del Tredici, Et Al

Release Date: 02/22/2005 
Label:  Music & Arts Programs Of America Catalog #: 1152   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  David Del Tredici
Performer:  Hila PlitmannDavid Del TrediciMiriam Abramowitsch
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

At its best, the music of David Del Tredici (b. 1937) has an invigorating lushness, whether in his serial Joyce settings or aligned with the remarkable sense of whimsy in the Alice in Wonderland works that made him famous. The potential problem with the elaborate nature of the composer’s style is overkill—one more textural strand, one more layer of point making that gilds an already highly ornate lily into a state of collapse. In a sense, that is what happens here, although both of these extended cycles for voice and piano have much that is intensely beautiful (and the whimsy quotient is not entirely absent—witness the very entertaining quotations from Strauss and Wagner in Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter). A central characteristic of Read more Del Tredici’s vocal music is to pit the singer against a background of almost overwhelming density, resulting, in some of the orchestral works, in the singer’s needing to be amplified to be heard effectively above the din. Here the voices are deployed against a background that recalls Liszt and Rachmaninoff at their busiest. As a corollary to that hyper-expressive piano-writing, the voice, in both cycles, is frequently driven to the very top of its register, something that gives both singers here moments of discomfort.

Both of the cycles here are straightforwardly tonal, often recalling the harmonic language of Samuel Barber without the older composer’s judicious restraint. Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter (1998–2001), a through-composed setting of a long poem by Joshua Beckman, is really not significantly more difficult to follow than Samuel Barber’s Hermit Songs, although I would not suggest that it is in fact of comparable quality or of equal range of expression. The piano-writing is fairly clotted with notes. Against this is set the equally strenuous vocal writing that is virtuosic in the extreme, ranging from soft, high-lying lyrical lines to something like a full scale operatic scena (the Wagner quotes include Ride of the Valkyries and the vocal line is Brünnhilde’s). It says much for Hila Plitmann’s general vocal poise that she manages the very demanding writing with something like total command, a few stratospheric high notes that come out of nowhere aside, and makes music of it. Her words are mostly intelligible, not an easy thing, given how high much of the music lies.

Chana’s Story (1998) for mezzo charts a journey somewhat similar to Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben, except that in this case the relationship withers and dies. The first five of the six songs setting various poems of Chana Bloch were written in nine days and the finale was added later, a very Schumann-like approach to composition indeed. Miriam Abramowitsch has a big, slightly unwieldy voice that finds some of the more rapidly moving music difficult—although specifically written for her, the music does not spare her in any way and asks for a lot of singing, loud and soft, at the top of her range, which does not come easily to her. She is much finer in the slower moving lines, set against Del Tredici’s characteristically busy piano-writing. Ideally, the music requires the kind of lush and evenly produced voice of a Jessye Norman in her prime, but it is hard to think of anyone right off who would do more justice to the music currently. I confess to finding the recital as a whole somewhat fatiguing. The sense of music that is ultimately too large to be filled is nearly constant, and the feeling of being battered by climax piling on climax is almost unavoidable. Exactly why this wasn’t as much of a problem in the orchestral Alice works is something of mystery to me but, impressive as the music and the singing here actually is, I find it works best in small doses. Excellent sound as well as full texts.

John Story, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter by David Del Tredici
Performer:  Hila Plitmann (Soprano), David Del Tredici (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Length: 37 Minutes 54 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Composition written: USA (1998).
Composition revised: USA (2001). 
Chana's Story by David Del Tredici
Performer:  Miriam Abramowitsch (Mezzo Soprano), David Del Tredici (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1998; USA 
Length: 34 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Language: English 

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