WILLIAM BOLCOM: Canciones de Lorca; Prometheus – R. Barbera – tenor/Jeffrey Biegel, piano/ Pacific Chorale and Sym. /Carl St. Clair – Naxos

WILLIAM BOLCOM: Canciones de Lorca; Prometheus – R. Barbera – tenor/ Jeffrey Biegel, piano/ Pacific Chorale and Sym. /Carl St. Clair – Naxos CD 8.559788 (11/13/15) TT: 54:52 ****:

Striking contemporary songs and choral work with orchestra make for a compelling musical experience.

William Bolcom (b. 1938) is an extremely prolific and skilled composer, winning a Pulitzer Prize and several GRAMMY Awards over the course of his career. Naxos has offered this disc aimed at contemporary music lovers, and in terms of the music and the recording it’s a highly worthwhile purchase.

First off is a piece based on the poetry of Frederico Garcia Lorca who died in 1936, the Canciones de Lorca, composed in 2006. Originally written for Placido Domingo, the poems are sung in the original Spanish by tenor Rene Barbera, accompanied by the Pacific Symphony. These are fine performances, and the liner notes provide an English translation, but I listened without the notes first and really enjoyed the performance. The mood of the poems is varied, from whimsical to mysterious.

The second work is Prometheus, written by Bolcom in 2009 for chorus, piano (Jeffrey Biegel) and orchestra. It is sung in English, and is an epic work, based on the famous poem by Lord Byron (1788-1824). It is a sizzlingly good recording, with excellent balance of chorus, piano and orchestra.

This isn’t a program for casual listening. I sat back in a darkened room and cranked up the volume and found both compositions satisfying and in places thrilling. Even though this was not a high resolution recording, this CD sounded just fine, with realistic rendering of voices and instruments.

The Pacific Chorale and Orchestra played faultlessly, and the producers of this recording captured these performances in a very realistic way.

Bolcom is always interesting, and these two works will please lovers of contemporary music. Prometheus is the highlight of the disc to my ear, but the entire disc is beyond reproach musically and technically.

—Mel Martin

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