Jennifer Higdon: The Singing Rooms
Alvin Singleton: PraiseMaker
Alexander Scriabin: Le Poème de l’extase (Symphony No. 4, Op. 54)
Jennifer Koh (Violin), Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Robert Spano (Conductor)
Recorded in Atlanta, Georgia, Symphony Hall, Woodruff Arts Center (March 7 & 8, 2009) – Time: 78'49
TELARC TEL – 32630 – Liner notes and libretto in English
This new CD from TELARC features world premiere recordings of Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Hidgon’s (b. 1962) The Singing Rooms and Alvin Singleton’s (b. 1940) PraiseMaker. It concludes with Alexander Scriabin’s The Poem of Ecstasy.
The Singing Rooms, a violin concerto with an equally important part for chorus, was composed at the request of violinist Jennifer Koh. The piece is part of a commissioning consortium with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) and Minnesota Orchestra, with funding from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Argosy Foundation Contemporary Music Fund.
The text for chorus comprises six poems by Hidgon’s colleague, Jeanne Minahan, who teaches creative writing and literature at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.
The 37-minute work opens and closes with the same poem, in different settings, meant to evoke sensations of light coming through windows into rooms of a house at two times of day. It is also structured to elicit our own feelings as we react to the music and text. In between, five poems treat the mystery of life, the interpretation of dreams, a confession, how we quickly forget the lessons of history, and a conversation with God. In the composer’s words, “this is the house that we all inhabit: that of life”. This large-scale work uses the fine ASO and Chorus to maximum effect. The emotional spectrum is almost staggering – from pastoral to cataclysmic – the rhythmical range from reticent to undulating. Jennifer Koh plays a fresh, lyrical line and displays masterful technique. The composition, as well as the sound from the ASO, Chorus and violin are well balanced and seamlessly interwoven, and complement the rhythm and spirit of Minahan’s poems.
Alvin Singleton collaborated with the poet Susan Kouguell on PraiseMaker for chorus and orchestra. The Cincinnati May Festival commissioned the work for its 125th anniversary in 1998. The use of distinct planes of sound and tonal color, particularly in the brass and woodwinds, lend a foreboding gravitas to this remarkable work. The title, explains the composer, “points to the tradition of praise singing practiced by griots in western Africa”. Kouguell’s poem could be seen as a philosophical meditation on time and life’s journey, a fitting continuation to the Singing Rooms. Singleton uses a minimalist approach and a slow tempo which are mirrored in the repetitions of text in the poem.
Scriabin’s mystical The Poem of Ecstasy is an appropriate conclusion to the CD. Begun as a 300-line poem in 1903 to spiritually enlighten listeners, Scriabin attempted to describe in the accompanying symphony successive moods - from yearning to striving to fulfillment. Robert Spano and The ASO do a fine job of expressing the sensuous, undulating waves of color and light which characterize the work. The pacing is not too tight, thus allowing the Orchestra to breathe naturally and permit the listener to savor the aural delights – from the brilliance and impeccable performance of the horns and brass to the myriad percussion instruments, the warm woodwinds and the expressive string sections.
Robert Spano and the ASO have a fine feel for the compositions of this CD. There is much to be experienced here. The orchestrations, the violin solo, the poetry, the chorus offer a great deal for the contemplative listener. The disc should provide many hours of enjoyment.
Earl Arthur Love