Rebels With A Cause
El Rebelde Andrew Garland, baritone. Javier Abreu, tenor. Jeremy Reger, piano. Art Song Colorado Production DASP 005 Total Time: 68:32 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****
Baritone Andrew Garland teaches at the University of Colorado and it is there where he has performed as part of the Art Song Colorado (Denver) Project. The present recording focuses on music that transcends cultural boundaries blending Spanish or South and Central American musics.
Three of the works on this new release are by composer Gabriela Lena Frank (b. 1972), recently part of the Washington Post’s list of “most significant women composers in history”. Her own multicultural heritage shines in her compositions merging global sounds into an unique musical voice. In Frank’s music, the different musical traditions of Western art music become part of one musical language that takes its inspiration from her own experience and interests. This can be heard in the opening collection Cantos de CIfar y el Mar. The texts here are by the Nicaraguan poet Pablo Antonio Cuadra and are about a harp-playing mariner traveling Lake Nicaragua. Frank incorporates musical gestures that refer to Nicaraguan marimbas as well as other folkish gestures that provide vivid musical imagery. The vocal line is also challenging requiring some fairly high range (almost falsetto-like) singing. There is also Sprechstimme and other contemporary techniques that she uses to add to the drama. Jazz-like extended harmonies in the accompaniment create an additional interest. The piano churns and strums below the voice here which adds to the drama and the suddenly more tonal segments are quite stunning when they pop out of a segment that is more atonal. It creates a rich tapestry upon which the words are hung. Frank hopes to further set the other poems from this collection.
Las Cinco Lunas de Lorca features a text by Nilo Cruz about the assassination of Lorca during the Spanish Civil War. Garland is joined by tenor Javier Abreu in this intense duet that requires a quiet extensive range from both singers. The dramatic flair that was heard in the opening number is further given an almost commanding operatic flair here.
Continuing the exploration of other musical cultures, Frank turned to Andean musical references in the Cuatro Canciones Andinas. Here the challenge is to create a quartet of different characters, one for each song, that continues to pull together her fascinating and often dark harmonies with contemporary vocal gestures and writing. The vocal lines here, as in the other pieces, flow seemingly effortlessly from one note to the other as the accompaniment provides dramatic support as well. The setting was originally for mezzo-soprano and that creates some registral challenges in this version which Garland pulls off well.
The Shostakovich set of Spanish Songs, Op. 100 (1956, also originally for mezzo-soprano) is an apt conclusion to the recital. Here we see an earlier merging of Spanish musical references within the composer’s modernist language. The inclusion of the set helps provide a historical context for how contemporary composers continued to explore “exotic” cultures in Western musical literature. Shostakovich references guitar strumming and Spanish rhythms across these six songs putting his own musical stamp upon the gestures. One gets a chance to also greatly appreciate the composer’s wit in this set as well.
Garland has a rich tonal sound which comes across quite well in this recording and is aided by how Frank has set that line against her accompaniment patterns. You can hear the colors of his baritone in great contrast to Abreu’s equally rich tenor sound in the duet as well. Reger connects the dots with the piano’s dramatic support quite well throughout the pieces here. The recording is well-balanced with good imaging of the soloist(s) and piano in the sound space. Notes and other information for the album, including the texts and translations of the songs, can be acquired by scanning QR code on the inside cover of the release.
The ”rebelling” here is perhaps a reminder that we can have a both/and integration of cultures that can be an infusion of a composer’s personal experiences filtered through their own musical voice. The result is a merging of musical styles into a compelling collection here of music by Frank which is well worth seeking out in this important new release of her music especially.