Bond-ing Art and Poetry
Blue and Green Music: String Quartets & Vocal Works by Victoria Bond Cassatt String Quartet Michael Kelly, baritone. Bradley Moore, piano. TROY 1905 Total Time: 69:47 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****
Music for string quartet and new vocal works are featured on a new release on Albany Records. The music is by American composer Victoria Bond’s (b. 1945) who is noted for her sense of dramatic musical shaping and engaging melodic content. The current release makes a fine companion to one released a couple years ago on the Naxos label (Instruments of Revelation, Naxos 8.559864) As a student of Ingolf Dahl and Roger Sessions, one can hear her expansion of the modernist and dramatic styles now reshaped into her own established musical voice. For some people, she will also be familiar from her Metropolitan Opera lectures. The current release features two string quartets that frame a collection of her songs.
Blue and Green Music is the first of these and lends the album its title as well. The four-movement work, commissioned by the Cassatt Quartet, is a musical realization of Georgia O’Keefe’s painting of the same name. O’Keefe’s abstract painting is itself a study of color and motion as well as form as the two colors create sensuous patterns across the canvas. A bit of that intensity comes across as well from the opening movement that presents the two colors interplaying with one another. The central movements are evocations of the two colors on their own and feature some of the more intense music after a more energetic opening. The “Dancing Colors” that wraps things up is a more tonal work of exciting rhythmic energy and forward motion. Here some of the melodic ideas have a celebratory quality with an almost barn dance-like Americana quality hinted at the edges of the music. The piece is a real delight and quite engaging serving its purpose to draw the listener further into Bond’s musical world.
At the center of the release are songs for baritone and piano. The first of these, Art and Science, is a setting of a letter by Albert Einstein to a German magazine outlining some of his ideas and discoveries. The setting moves through the text with emphasis on repeated words and phrases against a more atonal accompaniment that adds dramatic punctuation and at times sparse open harmonic ideas against ultra-chromatic twists and turns. The work is a great example of Bond’s dramatic underpinning style. This can also be heard in the four songs in the song cycle, From an Antique Land. The poetry here encompasses different aspects of life from two youth’s adventure on the Staten Island Ferry, a reflection of power and memory, loss and grief, and the importance of memory and sound. The outer songs feature texts by Edna St. Vincent Millay which work well to frame the other poetry. The last is a reflection on Beethoven with quotation from his Ninth symphony. Texts by Percy Bysshe Shelley and Gerard Manley Hopkins are the basis for the central songs. While the Einstein setting feels more experimental, the cycle feels very much a part of American Art Song style and has a good blend of modern style. The baritone quality also adds to this feel in fine performances here by Michael Kelly. Bradley Moore also serves as a fine accompanist adding the little filigree commentary and navigating the dense harmonic structures and outlines quite well.
The album concludes with a quartet commissioned by the Audubon String Quartet. Bond’s Dreams of Flying is inspired by the work of John James Audubon in four movements that engage the idea of taking fight and the sensation of flying. She accomplishes this by opening with lower tones in “Resisting Gravity” that provide a sense of grounding before taking flight in slowly moving ascents. There is a sense of poignancy as we move into the brief “Floating” that is carried through into a moving, bittersweet moment for “The Caged Bird Dreams of the Jungle”. Things take off more in “Flight” which has that same jaunty, jazzy rhythmic inflections that graced the final movement of the earlier quartet. Bent pitches also lend an exciting quality as line fly higher against repeated motivic ideas that have a swaying quality. It also allows for each instrument to explore their own version of these ideas as they further comment and intermingle lines.
This is a fine album of chamber music that has two rather strong contemporary string quartets that are quite engaging. Both song cycles are also equally fascinating examples of art song style with engaging texts and approaches. The performances are also superb with excellent attention to detail in the Cassatt performances with displays of technical virtuosity amidst solid interpretations. The same can be said of Kelly’s exploration of the song cycles here with excellent support from Moore. Blue and Green Music is an album that should find many enthralled by the music here.