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An Abel Spectrum of New Music

Mark Abel--Spectrum Isabel Bayrakdarian, soprano. Carol Rosenberger, piano; Hila Plitmann, soprano. Kindra Scharich, mezzo-soprano. Adam Millstein, violin. Max Opferkuch, clarinet; David Samuel, viola. Dominic Cheli, piano; Trio Barclay: Dennis Kim, violin. Jonah Kim, cello. Sean Kennard, piano; Jeff Garza, horn. Christy Kim, flute; Jeffrey LaDeur, piano. Delos DE 3592 Disc One: Total Time: 43:45 Disc Two: Total Time: 48:06 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****

Spectrum is a collection of chamber music from composer Mark Abel. It is the sixth release of his work on the Delos label and here focuses on a balance of song cycles and smaller instrumental works. Artists featured here are also intimately connected to the label in some way or another which makes the collaborations here have an additional personal layer. The lyricism of Abel’s music creates instantly engaging music which is enhanced by his dramatic, modern harmonic language.

Opening the first disc is Trois Femmes du Cinema whose texts Abel wrote to reflect on three international actresses: Anne Wiazemsky, Pina Pellicer, and Larisa Shepitko. “Anne”, the first song, has an almost noir-ish quality in its opening moments. The music itself has a richer, semi-romantic quality with perhaps a touch of the musical stage. It is a quite stunning little work that paves the way for some of the really lovely reflective moments that appear in “Pina”. This piece too has an interesting almost stream-of-consciousness feel that moves through a reflective sketch of her life. Chromaticism and a bit more dissonance come to the fore front in “Larisa”. Each song creates an interesting dramatic compositional approach coupled with interesting shifts into closer intervallic writing that may open up to more traditional arrival points. The cycle is reminiscent of some of the more advanced Sondheim musicals of which these pieces seem to inhabit as distant cousins. With texts by Kate Gale, “Two Scenes from the Book of Esther” provides a look at the iconic Biblical heroine. The music here is written for a chamber ensemble and is a sort of preliminary pairing of scenes for an opera-in-development. The opening scene moves us from a young Esther into a confrontation between her and the ousted queen Vashti. The accompaniment patterns sometimes have a little folkish rhythmic feel to them from time to time which adds some forward motion. There are also some quite gorgeous vocal lines here as Esther dreams a bit in the first song. It is an interesting diptych of music with a bit more modern dramatic style. Disc two closes with a setting of three songs, 1966, which serve a semi-autobiographical exploration of Abel’s life. The texts are also derived from his own early poetry and connect with his hopes and early life experiences in often beautiful moments.

The first chamber piece is a work for viola and piano. Reconciliation Day has aspects that can be heard in the opening cycle of disc one with its moodier qualities contrasted with burst of sound and forward motion. There is a jazzy, rhythmic feel that has a dance-like quality to help move things along with the calmer sections having a semi-impressionist quality. Out the Other Side is for violin, cello, and piano. A small motivic gesture becomes the launching point for this piece that involves some interesting dialogue between the three lines. The approach is somewhat episodic in nature in its pushing and pulling of musical ideas that come and go in brief spurts of sound. It is also interesting to hear Abel move between the more intense, dissonant segments, into a more traditional, extended harmonic mode. Rhythms also have a jazz edge, even a folkish one at times all leading to a somewhat upbeat, though abrupt ending. Disc two features the third chamber piece, The Long March for flute, horn, and piano. Abel takes us on a musical journey that allows him to explore the unique timbre of these two instruments against the, often exhilarating, piano interactions, including an extended cadenza-like section. The lyrical style here provides some quite stunning music that is enhanced by the performances.

After a couple pages of Abel’s reflections on the pieces here, the accompanying booklet focuses on information about the women of the opening song cycle along with the respective texts. Texts for the other cycles are also included (though the diction of all the performers is excellent on its own, this helps one consider the way the music is set). The bulk of the ample information though goes to information about all of the performers on the recording which is quite extensive for a project like this. The sound throughout has a nice immediacy with fine balance and ambience that warms the sound just a bit. Performances are all quite engaging and prove to be excellent advocates for Abel’s music. This is a fine collection of contemporary chamber music with a little bit of something for everyone across this recital of Abel’s work.


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