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CLASSICAL  July 2004

CLASSICAL July 2004

Subject:

Bruce Adolphe

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 5 Jul 2004 18:01:24 -0500

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       Bruce Adolphe

* Ladino Songs of Love and Suffering
* Mikhoels the Wise (Act I, scene 4)
* Out of the Whirlwind

Lucy Shelton, soprano; Eliot Fisk, guitar; David Jolley, French horn; Erie
Mills, soprano; Nathaniel Watson, baritone; Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz;
John Aler, tenor; Phyllis Pancella, mezzo; University of Cincinnati
College-Conservatory of Music Wind Symphony/Rodney Winther.
Naxos 8.559413 Total time: 75:04

Summary for the Busy Executive: This CD probably won't change your life.

I first encountered the music of Bruce Adolphe with a piece for winds,
the Night Journey.  It seemed to me pretty and imaginative, so I had
nothing but good feeling as I prepared to listen to this CD.  This time
out, Adolphe's music disappointed me.

The Ladino Songs of Love and Suffering take some lyric gems, poetry of
Spanish Jews and gives them to the unusual combination of guitar, French
horn, and soprano.  As an exercise in sonority, it's fairly intriguing,
and moreover Adolphe brings it off.  The actual musical substance
constitutes the main hurdle for me.  It's almost entirely what I would
consider recitative, no different and no worse than lots of other Modern
writing in this vein.  But there's nothing truly memorable (other than
the instrumental combination) either - nothing that enhances the wonderful
poems Adolphe has chosen to set.  I don't really expect "Notre Amour,"
but I'd like something less superfluous than what the composer has given
me.

The opera Mikhoels the Wise tells the story of Solomon Mikhoels, the
great Soviet Jewish actor (and the father-in-law of the Polish-Russian
composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg [Moisei Vainberg]), undoubtedly the most
influential Jewish cultural figure during the Stalin years.  Mikhoels
was murdered by the secret police during one of the Anti-Semitic purges
of Stalin's final years.  The scene takes place in a special Siberian
enclave set up for Jews by Stalin as the Soviet alternative to Zionism.
Most of it consists of a dialogue between Mikhoels and Sin-Cha, a
Soviet-Korean woman who has fled her own country to the "protectorate."
Sin-Cha wants the visiting Mikhoels to emigrate permanently.  Mikhoels
gives her all sorts of reasons why he won't - from joking to serious -
the most compelling being his conviction that he can do more for Soviet
Jewry in Moscow, that the Socialism in which he has put his trust is
larger than a small enclave, and that he has no desire to exile himself
in his own country.  Given the circumstances of Mikhoels's life, the
argument becomes ironically poignant.  In effect, he heads for an
unavoidable tragedy, no matter what action he takes.  But the emotion
is all in the libretto.  The music doesn't stick with you, despite the
composer's best intentions.  Alone on-stage, Sin-Cha sings a lullaby for
Mikhoels and, by implication, European Jewry -- obviously a set piece
which, by its placement at the end of the scene, should ratchet up the
emotional level.  Again, the music doesn't deliver.

I liked best the sequence Out of the Whirlwind, settings of Holocaust
poetry.  Here, the music, rather than the text alone, does the emotional
work of moving the listener.  However, there's nothing that distinguishes
the music from that of fifty other composers.  One gets the feeling of
a piece well-written, sincerely felt, but not entirely the composer's
own.

Adolphe is mostly lucky in his performers.  Lucy Shelton in the Ladino
songs indulges her annoying habit of singing as if through a mouthful
of hot porridge.  I often couldn't understand what on earth she was
singing about, with translations of the texts in front of me.  But this
is the only bump in the road.  Guitarist Eliot Fisk and David Jolley on
the horn lend sensitive support and bring off the tricky instrumental
combination, convincing you that it amounts to more than a stunt.  John
Aler does well as Mikhoels, Erie Mills outstandingly well as Sin-Cha.
Both can act with their voices.  They give their scene dramatic point.
Schwarz and Seattle do what they can with an often dull score (as in
timbre, rather than interest, although the sound undoubtedly relates to
the interest).  The best instrumental work comes from the College-Conservatory
of Music Wind Symphony led by Rodney Winther.  They get sparks to fly.

Steve Schwartz

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