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Allan Blank: Song Cycles / Thieme, Miller, Kohn, Frankenberry

Blank / Thieme / Miller / Kohn / Frankenberry
Release Date: 08/14/2012 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1364   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Allan Blank
Performer:  Andrew KohnCatharine ThiemeRobert ThiemeJennifer Miller,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BLANK Poems from the Holocaust. 1 Introduction, Five Poems, Interludes and Conclusion 2 1 Catherine Thieme (mez); 2 Jennifer Miller (sop); Andrew Kohn (db); 1 Robert Thieme, 2 Robert Frankenberry (pn) ALBANY 1364 (64:04)

Read more /> The plaintive solo double bass that opens Poems from the Holocaust sets out the work’s expressive sphere. Lonely, desolate, and impeccably played here by Andrew Kohn, it enables the listener to enter into a world that will disturb our collective consciousness until the end of time. The double bass solo is actually a wordless setting of the “De Profundis” (a double-bass movement, “Kaddish,” again based on an unspoken text but this time with piano, ends the set, giving an implied symmetry but with the piano emphasizing the note of hope). The more explicit horrors begin with an active setting of a poem by someone only known as “Teddy” followed by a building number: a harrowing reminder of the depersonalization of it all. This is performed in English, while “Spielzeug” is rendered in the original German. Perhaps the most poignant movement is “Close your precious eyes,” a hypnotic, delicate movement in which the double bass acts as commentator. Catherine Thieme’s diction and grasp of the poems’ settings makes for compelling listening.

Allan Blank has a keen sense of narrative. If this song cycle is anything to go by (like the other piece on the disc, it receives its world premiere recording), he is an important composer in the world of song. The music, despite its subject matter and prevailing aura of mourning, is never devoid of hope. Blank was initially a violinist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, and is now professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. The second piece, Introduction, Five Poems, Interludes and Conclusion sets poetry by Jane Kenyon. Kenyon’s life story (including a battle with liver cancer and leukemia) makes for poignant reading, and this is reflected in the music. Andrew Kohn is a fine player, full of character in both pieces. The music here is less forbidding, more shot through with a feeling of tender nostalgia. The recording picks up the burnished deep resonance of the bass’s lowest registers, which lend a warm glow to the music. Interludes are brief but to the point. Blank knows how to maximize his material effectively; one of his strengths is not to labor a point, but to have confidence in his imagination and his ability to translate that to the page, and hence to us. The very final movement, “Otherwise,” seems to tap back into some of the power of Poems from the Holocaust, and makes for a remarkably affecting close to the disc. Recommended.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

Poems from the Holocaust by Allan Blank
Performer:  Andrew Kohn (Double Bass), Catharine Thieme (Mezzo Soprano), Robert Thieme (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Introduction, Five Poems, Interludes & Conclusion by Allan Blank
Performer:  Andrew Kohn (Double Bass), Jennifer Miller (Soprano), Robert Frankenberry (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 

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