ARLENE ZALLMAN, Sei La Terra Che Aspetta – var. perf. – Bridge

by | Aug 5, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

ARLENE ZALLMAN, Sei La Terra Che Aspetta = Variations on the Villanella, Alma che fai? by Luca Marenzio; Trio “Triquetra”; East, West of the Sun; Sei La Terra Che Aspetta; Nightsongs – Lois Shapiro, piano/Triple Helix Piano Trio (Lois Shapiro, piano/Bayla Keyes, piano/Rhonda Rider, cello)/Wellesley College Chamber Singers & instrumental ensemble/Brian Hulse, conductor/Jenny Tang, piano/Hekun Wu, cello/Elise Yun, piano/Karol Bennett, soprano/Leone Buyse, flute/Michael Webster, clarinet – Bridge Records 9323, 59:14 [Distr. by Albany] ***:
Arlene Zallman (1934-2006) was a professor of composition at Wellesley College for over thirty years and before that, briefly, at Oberlin Conservatory and Yale University. She studied composition with Vincent Persichetti and George Crumb and, while on a Fulbright grant, with Luigi Dallapiccola in Italy. During all this time, her own music did not become very well known and, as her daughter Minna Proctor points out in the booklet notes, this is the very first recording on commercial CD of any of her music. In that sense, this serves as an interesting introduction to her music as well as a bit of a memorial of sorts.
The music is interesting. Largely tonal, Zallman’s work is beautiful in places and driven by melody, a bit angular and curious in other places. There is a unique voice in her work; I found it just a bit reminiscent of that of her teacher, Persichetti, in places but I truly cannot hear any Crumb or Dallapiccola. To her credit, I think, her music is fascinating but almost impossible to “pin down”. One cannot say that Zallman’s music is particularly similar to any other composer with whom the general public is familiar. There is clear creativity at work and a compositional style that seems driven by reaction to source material or perhaps an emotional impetus; not a defining “style” at work.
For example, the Trio “Triquetra” for violin, cello and piano is a very nice concise work in three movements with an overall elegiac effect. The middle movement, a “Lament”, in memory of a friend, Andrea Lanini, is stark, tragic and attention getting. The work closes with an almost macabre scherzo; creepy and impulsive.  The opening work on this disc for solo piano “Variations” on a theme by Marenzio does not make as strong an impression. However, there is a similarity blend of the angular and the sentimental while the original choral piece by Marenzio is all bit indistinguishable; but present. Lois Shapiro, the pianist in both of these works plays quite well and with an obvious familiarity with Zallman’s intent and sensitivity. The Helix Trio, Bayla Keyes and Rhona Rider, joined by Shapiro, demonstrate similar technique and commitment.
The choral work, “East, West of the Sun” hardly sounds like even the same composer. The seven movement work comes from very disparate text sources, including Ezra Pound, the Greek Anthology and traditional American Indian songs. The net effect and sound is what really caught my attention. These short chamber choir pieces are scored for small vocal forces and just a small instrumental ensemble including strings, flute, piano and percussion. The writing is 100% tonal and the sound is a bit impressionistic in spots, “eastern” – rather Balinese – in places and very pleasant overall. My personal favorite piece in this is the “V. Epithalamium” on a text by Confucius and Pound. Mostly I was both impressed and surprised that this work is also by the same person who wrote the others on this disc.
“Sei la terra che aspetta” (You are the waiting earth) for cello and piano is a very interesting, single-movement work structured along four sections and is inspired by a stanza of poetry (from which comes the title) by the Italian poet Cesare Pavese. There are metaphors involving love, life and death at work in the poem and Zallman treats the two instruments almost as if they were carrying on a dialogue. This is a brief, somewhat introspective work and I enjoyed the somewhat abstract overall effect. I felt the same way about “Nightsongs” for soprano, clarinet and flute. The three individual texts are taken from the work of a German poet, Joseph von Eichendorff. The music splendidly reflects the mysterious and somewhat unsettling atmosphere that night evokes, as expressed in the text. The singer must sing a largely atonal line including some Sprechstimme, as in Berg or Schoenberg. Ultimately it is a beautiful work and I especially appreciated the work of soprano Karol Bennett and clarinetist (bass clarinet also, I believe) Michael Webster.
I found this to be a somewhat odd disc in that each work seems so different. My two personal favorites that I did feel strongly about were “Triquetra” and “Night Songs”. The booklet notes point out that Arlene Zallman’s music was not performed much during her lifetime and, clearly, not recorded. Annotator Martin Boykin comments that this was due in part to the composer’s disinterest in “the marketplace” and that her music seems to be consistently out of context with the work of other “mainstream” composers writing at the same benchmark time periods. It seems to me, while listening and reading, that Arlene Zallman was a bit of an iconoclast. Almost as if each piece says ‘I don’t care that it’s different ‘ from the others or as if to say ‘I don’t care what other people are writing’.  She sounds like a genuine American original who never got the attention that, perhaps, she deserved during her lifetime. The performances here all seem quite good and the recording is up to Bridge’s usual excellent production standards. This CD does, indeed, provide a fascinating introduction and makes me think I would have enjoyed meeting her. What a satisfying memorial for anyone.
— Daniel Coombs

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