* 2 Sonnets from Michelangelo
* The Trojan Women
Louisville Orchestra/Robert Whitney, Akira Endo
First Edition Music FECD-0023 Total time: 57:10
Summary for the Busy Executive: Very Seventies.
As a rather sly send-up of "end-of-millennium" and "top-ten" lists,
musical compere Jim Svejda proclaimed Karel Husa the Greatest Living
Composer. It was a provocative, odd choice, probably intended as such.
Husa's had a nice career, as classical composing goes, with time spent
mainly in the academy, and not wholly free of the charge of falling prey
to academic fads. But he certainly hasn't the visibility of a Carter,
Adams, Rouse, Reich, Tippett, Davies, or even John Rutter and P. D. Q.
Bach. You have to make a slightly greater effort to hear Husa's music.
Husa, born in Czechoslovakia, became an American citizen in 1959, but
like his compatriot Martinu, he has always looked back toward his native
country. His best-known work, Music for Prague, musically responds to
the Soviet repression of 1968, and more than a little of his catalogue
deals with war and political repression.
Politically and as a human being, Husa stands with the angels.
Unfortunately, I consider him the victim of the "well-written piece."
There's nothing obviously wrong with his music, but there's nothing
particularly individual about it either, and little interesting. The
2 Sonnets from Michelangelo (1970) could have been written by a lot of
people at the time. Both instrumental works, they attempt, like Debussy's
Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune, to closely follow a literary text.
To my mind, Husa doesn't get all that close. That is, my mind comes up
with different music for the texts, and I can't tell when he's moving
from one idea of the sonnets to another. One could argue over the success
of the Debussy in this regard, but it ultimately doesn't matter. Debussy
provides interesting music that makes sense even if you don't know
Mallarme from Mallomars. Husa, on the other hand, writes a fairly ugly,
monochromatic piece which seems stuck in a tar pit.
The Trojan Women, also programmatic, at least moves. It has its good
moments. Based on the Euripides tragedy, it, like the Michelangelo
Sonnets, also seems written in Steelcase gray, but the story permits it.
Again, you can't really call it a bad piece, but you have only to put
it beside something like Barber's Medea or Schuman's Judith to see its
shortcomings. There's very little memorable about it -- no genius theme,
no feat of pure composition, no eye-popping color to lift it beyond the
merely blameless. It leaves the mental listening room almost immediately.
This program comes from the old Louisville Orchestra series of (then)
contemporary music. The performances are both acceptable, the sound a
little tinny, as the Louisville LPs tended to be. Endo does better than
Whitney, but he leads the more interesting piece. Despite my lack of
enthusiasm for this particular recording, I look forward to more releases
in the series. Whitney was one of the great commissioners, with an
uncanny sense of who, among the traditional Modernists, to ask for
something really good as well as where to find abandoned gems. There
are some wonderful recordings of Piston, Mennin, Diamond, Bergsma, Foss,
and others awaiting transfer.