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Thursday, August 18, 2016

David Lang, The National Anthems, Los Angeles Master Chorale

When is enough minimalism...enough? Clearly there is still life in the form for certain composers. Others, perhaps not. David Lang is one of the productive exponents. The new CD The National Anthems (Canteloupe 21119) continues David Lang's processional journey in moving ways.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Calder String Quartet perform the title work, a kind of dirge for the fallen dead of all nations through the use of at least one word from all the national anthems in the world. The collated text shows us that every nation in one way or another demands from its citizens fighting wars in the national name, potentially giving up one's life at some time or another, especially when young.

The text is indeed a sad one. The music makes use of minor-keyed diatonic fragments that sometimes bifurcate into two-part counterpoint, other times have a chant-like ritual repetition as the main structural focus. The music works well with the text.

A second work, "The Little Match Girl Passion" is based on the children's tale and is scored for the chorale and percussion. It has a more harmonically enriched minor-keyed diatonicism as its basis and so goes well with the title work.

The use of simple means in works such as these is of course no guarantee for success. David Lang uses the elemental building blocks with a ritual sureness that gives us resonance with early sacred world musics yet remains distinct within the parameters Lang has set up.

After several hearings Lang's music proceeded to do its work upon me, so that in the end these works spoke clearly to my musical self. He once again shows us to be a composer of real importance today. Give this one a couple of listens and perhaps you too will find it a powerfully dramatic program.

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