“Song of Songs” = DAVID LANG: Just; LUCIANO BERIO: Naturale; BETTY OLIVERO: En la mar hai una torre – Trio Mediaeval & others – Contemporary Music Society

“Song of Songs” = DAVID LANG: Just; LUCIANO BERIO: Naturale; BETTY OLIVERO: En la mar hai una torre – Trio Mediaeval/Garth Knox, viola/Agnes Vesterman, cello/Sylvain Lemetre, perc./Cliona Doris, harp – Louth Contemporary Music Society LCMS 1502 [Distr. by Allegro], 45:18, (10/02/15) ****:

The Louth (Ireland) Contemporary Music Society has a growing reputation as one of Europe’s most innovative promoters of contemporary music. This disc is from an October, 2014 concert and shows the quality of the music showcased and of the featured performers; the Trio Mediaeval vocal ensemble and their guest soloists.

David Lang remains one of America’s best known most and highly respected composers whose music is known for its tonal and beautiful center and very diverse and creative approaches to structure. The present Just is a fairly long and wholly captivating work that shows the purity of sound of Trio Mediaeval quite well. The text is taken from the Biblical “Song of Songs” of Solomon and breaks up the words into short, beautiful little phrases that force us to concentrate on the words. This wonderful work is also used in the recent film, Youth, starring Michael Caine and Rachel Weisz.

The music of Luciano Berio is of a different time and style and sounds fairly different from that of Lang. Naturale based on his own earlier work, Voci, and both feature the viola; an instrument that Berio held a great affinity for. This work pits a solo violist against a tam-tam player and a recording of Sicilian folk singer Peppino Celano. The somewhat disconnected “duo” plays with and against each other in moments that alternately sound symbiotic and alien. Berio was one of the principal teachers of Betty Olivero and, while his music is often a bit cerebral, it is always interesting; Naturale being no exception. I do think most would find this work the most difficult listening experience of the three here, however.

The concert closes with Betty Olivero’s En la mar hai una torre (“In the sea there is a tower”.) This work returns us to the work of Trio Mediaeval and texts taken from the “Song of Songs.” In this case, the melodies are treatments of actual Ladino, Yemenite and Arabic folks on the same topic. Olivero is herself, of Ladino Sephardic Jewish heritage and she does a masterful job creating textures that incorporate the languages of Hebrew and Ladino and some quite delicate string and percussion effects. The “Song of Songs” in its permutations heard here serve also as a bit of reminder that – in this very troubled part of the world – Jews and Muslims hold some textual and philosophical things in common. I did not know much of Betty Olivero’s music until hearing this but I am motivated to find more.

This album is certainly a “modern music” experience but Trio Mediaeval is an exceptional ensemble and all three works here are interesting and hold substantial merit. I think my personal favorite was Betty Olivero’s En la mar… but this a very worthwhile collection of new music. Kudos to the Louth Contemporary Music Society for their ongoing work in this regard!

—Daniel Coombs

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