God’s Sketches = JORGE GRUNDMAN: Surviving a Son’s Suicide: String Quartet; God’s Sketches – Susana Cordón, soprano/ Jaime Fernández, mallets/ Brodsky Quartet – Non-Profit Music multichannel SACD NPM 1201, 47:30 [Distr. by Albany] ***1/2:
Non-Profit Music is a record company based in Spain that donates all of its profits to humanitarian causes, primarily the international medical emergency relief organization Doctors Without Borders. The recording label’s motto is “Making Music, Saving Lives.” To steal a quote from something I found on the web, “Jorge Grundman, the founder and driving force behind Non-Profit Music, will only sign other artists to be released by his company if the musicians share his humanitarian concerns and if their music is ‘emotive.’ Grundman says, ‘The music must share emotion in a direct way. We have two goals – to bring the world audience together as they share an appreciation of the music, and to use the profits that are generated to help people in need. Our music tries to always recognize that there is sadness and suffering in the world, while never forgetting that we also must have hope. We cannot feel comfortable with all the things that humankind does, but we need to find a way to correct our errors.’”
Noble goals these, to be sure, and I guess this excludes most atonal or avant-garde music. But in fairness not everyone will share Grundman’s overt concept of “emotive” though I’ll wager most will at least understand what he means by it. He is non-apologetic about it—music is for him pure emotion, and on the basis of the works on this disc, heart-on-sleeve emotion as well.
So it was with a bit of trepidation that I first approached Surviving a Son’s Suicide. If this is autobiographical how in the world can anyone review it? Music so personal that no critic would dare even touch it! It was with some relief upon reading the notes that I realized that this is essentially a contrived scenario, not a real one. No one has killed himself here, and no parent is suffering because of it; only we who are asked to imagine, in vivid detail, the particulars of this made-up highly emotional story for the purpose of feeling the very song-like and sadly wistful music in three movements, “Browsing his childhood photographs”, “Remembering his awkward age”, and “His room as he left it”. I am not sure such an invitation to plunge into a scene that most parents would dread above all others is the best way to invite one to experience a musical situation; let’s just call this his “String Quartet”. [Agreed…Ed.] It is moving and beautiful in spots, but again rather simplistic and strophic, which probably suits Grundman just fine.
God’s Sketches is easily the superior piece, again based on a contrived scenario but one which is moving, nicely set, and adds to the collective social consciousness. The story, told by the soprano who we find out is the daughter of the protagonists, involves the growing up and eventual love between a man with Down’s Syndrome, and a woman who is autistic. Grundman is rightly concerned with the way society perceives—or fails to perceive—people with “disabilities”, and prefers to call them “God’s Sketches” instead of any term that might suggest incompleteness of any kind. The piece, strangely enough reminds me of Knoxville: Summer of 1915 in emotional tone in many places, though the differing texts could not be more profoundly disparate. But soprano Susana Cordón sings the text as if she really is the daughter of this couple, and I found the whole marvelously convincing and quite appropriate from a topical standpoint. I hope that anyone with a child or relative conditioned by these syndromes is able to hear this music.
Non-Profit is always very adept at their surround sound presentations, though here like in their other albums the recording is quite close up and the volume level high. I will say that the string quartet gets interesting and effectual treatment in that all four instruments are spaced well apart on the soundstage and around the speakers. An interesting release, well worth checking out for God’s Sketches alone.
Chico Hamilton and Little Feat join forces on this impressive 2023 Record Store Day Black Friday release.