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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Martin Bresnick, Prayers Remain Forever

A personal voice among today's composers is not the rule, no less so today than in ages past. There are those few who stand out with a twist, a way of doing what others do, but not like how others do it. Martin Bresnick qualifies, going on his latest release of chamber works, Prayers Remain Forever (Starkland 221). I reviewed his exceptional Caprichos Enfaticos, based on Goya's anti-war drawings, way back on November 14, 2011, and it too is in its own world.

I say he has a "personal voice" once again because all six compositions in the current program turn the contemporary into the Bresnickian with a minimum of means. The largest ensemble, a quartet of oboe, violin, viola and cello, remains intimate, is more like a lively conversation among friends than an imperial utterance destined for the rafters of a large hall. The recorded media seems absolutely right for this music, as it communicates directly to you the listener without pretense or assumption.

Each work occupies a post-modern world of its own. There is "Josephine the Singer" (2011) with its Kafka-referring neo-classical, neo-romantic solo violin that seems to be driving anything but applause, but rather to internalize a search for some kind of meaning in sound. The solo piano pieces differ greatly. "Strange Devotion" (2010) uses space and silence to offset a series of tender diatonics that gradually grow in complexity and modulatory wanderings; or "Ishi's Song" (2012), which features vocals and a definite Eastern pentatonicism folkishness that appeals as it gives you an unexpected turn. It is based on a song sung by the last Yahi-Yani Indian of California.

"A Message From the Emperor" (2010) features two vibes/marimba and a spoken part that concerns the mysterious whispered communication of a royal personage on his death bed to "the solitary one." The latter then sets out to communicate it (and we don't know to whom) to the accompaniment of interlocking contrapuntal shifting patterns on the mallets. The narrative continues and I won't give away the ending, but it is a story mythologically redolent of the East, a sort of musical Zen koan.

"Prayers Remain Forever" (2011) uses cello and piano to an expression not unlike "Strange Devotion," both tonal, modern and post-that working around intervallic and harmonic cyclicality that spirals more than repeats, developing as it evolves.

"Going Home" (2010) is the quartet I mentioned earlier. It begins with simple long notes and intervalic embellishment thematics in the oboe that have a largo-esque Eastern quality. The lyrical deliberateness rings well in your ears.

It is a program of unexpected synergies, a fragile beauty and sensibility that takes it out of our time and places it somewhere in an unknown exotic locale at a time unknown. It is for that a very pleasurable listen, both accomplished and very down-to-earth.

Recommended. A singular addition of one for your collection...

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