Notes and Editorial Reviews
Lazy Andy Ant.
Suite for Marthe Krueger.
2 Songs for Baritone
Songs of the Jewish Pioneers.
To a Theatre New
Patrick Mason (nar);
Zac Garcia (
Wendy Buzby (
Mathew Whitmore (
Quattro Mani (pns);
Rebecca Jo Loeb (mez);
Matt Boehler (b bar);
Ursula Oppens (pn)
BRIDGE 9308 (58:07
Text and Translation)
In my formative years, I used to think of Wolpe as a difficult composer. Was it because, living in Chicago at a time when his pupil Ralph Shapey was the dominant figure on the contemporary-music scene, I was encouraged to think of Wolpe as the source of Shapey’s own gnarly style? Was it, more generally, because, at late midcentury, he was performed primarily by such champions of the avant-garde as Arthur Weisberg, Charles Wuorinen, and David Tudor, musicians who favored his more rugged and abstract music? Was it because of his association with the abstract expressionist painters? Was it because, in the wake of McCarthy and HUAC, Wolpe’s left-populist side tended to remain in the shadows? In any case, my very limited sense of Wolpe’s style was hardly idiosyncratic. As is obvious if you go back and read descriptions of his music in such popular venues as
New York Times
or in the program notes accompanying his recordings, terms like “tough” and “severe” were once the norm for summing up his idiom.
Nowadays—in part because of Bridge’s enterprising Wolpe series, of which this is the fifth volume—we know better: Wolpe was a protean composer who had as much in common with Weill (whose spirit hovers over the march-like passages in
, a text Weill himself had set a few years earlier) as he did with Webern, who took as freely from jazz and folk music as he did from the European high modernists, whose music could be witty as well as earnest. This collection gives a good sense of his range. On the one hand, we have the recently rediscovered 1940 ballet score
Suite for Marthe Krueger
. It’s nowhere near as imposing and eruptive as Wolpe’s most famous work,
, but in its jagged gestures, its often harsh counterpoint, and its willingness to push on ahead through thorny dissonances, it’s certainly in the same camp. On the other hand, we have
Lazy Andy Ant
, Wolpe’s contribution to the children’s-story-with-music genre dominated by
Peter and the Wolf
. Helen Fletcher’s text, about a scorned and exiled artist who saves the community, is marginally edgier than Prokofiev’s, but Wolpe’s score (which, like Prokofiev’s, culminates in a triumphal march) is simpler, with allusions to musical theater and smatterings of Coplandesque populism. To add to the eclectic spirit, we have the nine songs, which range from a surprisingly angry German setting of Whitman (
) and an increasingly agitated setting of Blake’s
to the fairly transparent and gently tinted settings of the first three
Songs of the Jewish Pioneers
, recastings of tunes originally composed by Jewish immigrants to Palestine in the 1930s.
In sum, a kaleidoscopic collection. The performers are a varied lot, too, ranging from veteran Ursula Oppens to Zac Garcia (still in high school when he made this recording), but they all make a convincing case for this music. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz