And so with David Lang's Love Fail (Cantaloupe 21100) there is a conjoinment of many different factors that makes me feel, after hearing the work and the inimitable Anonymous Four's performance of it a number of times, that yes, this is good.
Minimalism, which this music both is and is beyond, must stand or fall on its musical content. And stand it does, Love Fail. It's not just the Anonymous Four's performance (they are supreme in handling early music), there is something ritualistic, chant-like about the music as it presents itself in time.
It is all about love, romantic love, and it draws upon the Tristan and Isolde story as well as a series of impressions and disjointed happenstances that describe the he and she of the couple and ultimately their disconnect. Earthly life ending puts an end to earthly love in the active tense. But there of course are disconnects that can take place within an active coupling here on earth. The work has a hazy, dream-like presence so that you are left with things remembered, qualities, events, and in the end, loss, at times in terms of finely detailed focus, other times as a hazy remembrance that conveys grief as well as experiences gone, the lack of them in the present.
The music structure alternates between fairly long, flowing, sometimes contrapuntal passages and short melodic-text fragments. The fragments give you that feeling of disconnect. If there is repetition it pretty much quickly turns to variation and subtractive-additive phrasings, like old plainchant a little. And in that way you get the emotional analogy of the story in the structure of the music.
It makes for a moving experience. And as Marcel Mauss famously said about human exchange, you get a sort of total social phenomenon. Words, text and performance make of the work a widely and oddly totalized thing, even though there is at most times nothing "large" about the sound.
Part of that is that David Lang has a knack, a way of moving along in his works that gives movement within works and also between them. He stands still not at all. And this work has a kind of dramatic enveloped bell curve to it that goes from start to finish and effectively drives you the listener to experience directly a bleak but tender sadness. Loss.
Needless to say I recommend this very much. There is a timelessness, a once-upon-a-timelessness that universal story telling can give you, only it hangs together as music extraordinarily well. You are left in the end with absence and memory.