MARTIN BRESNICK: Prayers Remain Forever – Lisa Moore, piano / Artist Unknown, vocals/ Sarita Kwok, violin/ Michael Compitello, vibraphone/ Ian Rosenbaum, marimba/ Double Entendre Music Ens. – Starkland CD ST-221, 60:00 (11/18/14) ****:
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I popped this CD into my player. Martin Bresnick isn’t a composer I was familiar with. The first track started with a jolt and got my attention, and as the track played out I became more and more interested.
I listened to the entire disc, and then starting from the beginning again, and did a little research on the composer. Born on the Bronx, educated at Stanford, and he studied under Ligeti and John Chowning. He has written a good deal of chamber music, as well as some minor film scores like the documentary The Day after Trinity, so in fact I had heard at least that composition.
The disc under review here is an interesting survey of Bresnick’s work, consisting of six varied pieces. The CD features leading new music performers, including Lisa Moore, the founding pianist for the Bang On A Can All-Stars and cellist Ashley Bathgate, praised for her “rich tone, fluid dynamics and imaginative phrasing” (The New York Times) and a member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars.
The first track, Going Home, written in 2011 for piano and cello, is inspired by the poem Gods Come and Go, Prayers Remain Forever, by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. The next track, Ishi’s Song, is for a singing pianist, and takes it’s lyrics from a Native American medley.
Another notable piece is A Message from the Emperor based on Kafka. The piece is scored for two speaking percussionists who play marimba, vibraphone and small tuned drums. I haven’t heard anything quite like it.
The rest of the disc gives us a rich picture of Bresnick’s composing skills, with some more vocals, and instruments like the marimba, as well as some lovely and passionate music for strings. The collection is unique, dark at times, brooding, but always compelling. He assembles each piece from an interesting sonic palette, and each has its own unique feel and style.
The recording is adequate, but not, in my view, up to the quality of the music. There’s a fair stereo image, but not a lot of directionality. It may be done in a way that pleased the composer, but I found the low end lacked heft, and instruments were not positioned as precisely as I would have liked. It’s far from a bad recording, just not an exceptional one.
Bresnick has deep talent, and this disc will serve as a good introduction to those, like me, who really weren’t aware of his unforgettable compositions.
I’ll be looking for some more to listen to.
• Going Home
• Ishi’s Song
• Josephine the Singer
• Strange Devotion
• A Message from the Emperor
• Prayers Remain Forever
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