DAVID LANG: Love Fail – Anonymous 4 – Cantaloupe CA21100, 49:44 (Distr. by Naxos) [5/27/14] ****:
It seems to me like the music of David Lang has evolved a lot since I first heard his early work with “Bang on a Can.” As a composer, he has lately been seeking some pretty deep topics, frequently drawn from literature or mythology or the travails of modern life and transforming his source material into music of pure emotional appeal.
This song cycle, Love Fail, is, perhaps, a perfect example of the effect. Lang’s inspiration for this piece is the Tristan and Isolde legend, a tale and allegory that dates back to the twelfth century and; in its most familiar context, immortalized in the Wagner opera. Lang’s own program notes suggest that he sought the tone and purpose of the original story and some of the scholarly interpretations of it over the years. In his research, Lang discovers or confirms that the love of the famous couple is doomed from the start and is highly symbolic of the complex nature of relationships and the thin lines between true love, obsession and simple empathy.
To frame Lang’s vision of the tale and its implications, the composer uses texts by contemporary poet Lydia Davis alongside snippets by various scholars on the same subjects (love, life, respect, and so forth). Many of these writers were completely unfamiliar to me and, it seems, to Lang at first, as well, in his search for meaningful words to fit his topic. To go with the numerous contemporary writings, Lang took the words of some historic essayists on the Tristan legend and framed them as poetry. These sources include Gottfried von Strassburg, Marie de France, Beatriz Comtessa de Dia, Sir Thomas Malory, Thomas of Britain and even words from the traditional Yom Kippur atonement service and those within the Wagner libretto.
This seemingly bizarre pastiche of written sources actually works very well, but ultimately, this is music where you can simply ignore the construct and just take in the beautiful, ethereal, sometimes eerie sounds. The amazing vocal quartet Anonymous 4 has a long repertoire that covers everything from medieval music to contemporary classical. These ladies have a clear, airy, perfect symbiotic sound that is a unit. These are not four separate vibrato-laden ‘warblers’ but a unit that sounds as one.
Lang’s music is stunning. Following the text while listening makes it seem even more so but Love Fail is an entrancing listening experience as it is. I have liked more and more of David Lang’s music with each work I hear and this piece makes for a good pairing with his Death Speaks. I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying this work and savoring all that it brings to the emotions.
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