Choral Works of DANIEL ASIA – BBC Singers/ Odaline de la Martinez– Summit

by | Apr 1, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Choral Works of DANIEL ASIA: Purer than Purest Pure; Why (?) Jacob; Summer is Over; The She Set; Out of More; Sounds Shapes – BBC Singers/ Odaline de la Martinez, conductor – Summit DCD 550, 59:59 ***:
Daniel Asia can be a frustrating composer. The last disc I reviewed of his, after a period of about ten years without encountering anything by him, was terrific.  His choral output has been very small compared to the rest of his catalog, and I don’t really believe that it is his most comfortable domain. Three of the settings here, Purer than Purest Pure, Summer is Over, and Out of More are all devoted to the poetry of E. E. Cummings, a poet that Asia came to late, but once encountered, wrote with a vengeance. The settings are all basically homophonic in nature, partly, as Asia explains, to make clear the meaning of Cummings’s oft-difficult syntax. According to Asia, the more familiar a piece of poetry is the greater leeway a composer can take with it. With Cummings, it’s almost impossible without totally leaving the words behind and making the piece nothing but a verbal springboard for the music. But these setting are clear as a bell in their declamatory power, even though I am less convinced by the quality of the music surrounding them.
Why (?) Jacob is a strange work written for a group of high school students for a celebration, but decidedly not celebratory as Asia decided to make the piece also suggestive of the people who could not be there to celebrate. In other words, it’s like an implicit requiem of sorts. The forces include eight-part chorus, four speakers, and piano, and I found the whole of it to be almost unintelligible and disjointed. Likewise, the silly noises of Sound Shapes written when the composer was 19. Not all juvenilia should be recorded, and this old-hat dissertation on choral sound studies maintains only slight interest.
By far the best piece here is The She Set, a work with poetry of Paul Pines, inspired by the idea of the anxiety of separation. The poetry draws on ancient stories of the likes of Orpheus and Eurydice, while the music is the most involved and creative on this disc from the standpoint of melodic content, wonderfully shifting harmonies, and evocative word setting. This 1985 piece deserves wide exposure. I can’t say that about all the music here, but there is much to enjoy. Sound is clear for the most part, though a little tubby in places. The BBC Singers are terrific.
— Steven Ritter

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