JOHN HARBISON: Due Libri dei Mottetti di Montale; Concerto for Oboe, Clarinet, & Strings; Piano Sonata No. 1; Mirabai Songs – Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano/ Georgine Resick, mezzo-soprano; other soloists/Scott Yoo, cond. – Bridge

by | Jan 18, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

JOHN HARBISON: Due Libri dei Mottetti di Montale; Concerto for Oboe, Clarinet, & Strings; Piano Sonata No. 1; Mirabai Songs – Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano/ Georgine Resick, mezzo-soprano/ Peggy Pearson, oboe/ Jo-Ann Sternberg, clarinet/ Robert Shannon & Warren Jones, piano/ Greenleaf Chamber Players/ Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra/ Scott Yoo, conductor – Bridge 9200, 71:48 ****:

John Harbison is one of the best of our modern composers, writing in a manner unique to him, yet incorporating all sort of the best elements in so many wide and varied styles. This is not to say he is eclectic—far from it—but has assimilated enough music so that his style has become a “melting pot” by nature, without artifice. This release, labeled “Volume I” by the folks at Bridge, may end up as a definitive accounting of the many-faceted composer’s work.

His Two Books of Motets based on the poetry of Eugenio Montale (1896-1981), the Italian poet and 1975 Nobel Prize winner, were culled from a complete opus that lasts over 50 minutes, and according to the composer, is rarely played. The instrumentalists essentially make up an octet of four winds and four strings, and the poetry is most assuredly presented by the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in a wonderful performance. This is actually a 1991 recording, and the expressive, nuanced singing brings these wonderful motets to life in a formidable manner.

The sixteenth-century poet Mirabai wrote some texts that are gently affecting, telling of the death of her husband when she was 27, and of her subsequent refusal of the traditional pyre that awaited all widowed Indian women whose spouses died in war. These songs are in the 1982 version for piano and voice, and Georgine Resick is at the top of her game, giving us a very plaintive, calmly reasoned tone of emotional violence suppressed by years of having to live with a very difficult decision, full of regret, yet regretting nothing but the loss she endured.

The Clarinet and Oboe Concerto is a three movement work that, in true Baroque style, retains only one basic emotional tone in each movement. Harbison states in the notes that it was a great pleasure for him to bring the clarinet, an instrument that missed the Baroque by just a few years, into this sort of style. Each instrument, and the orchestra, is a true independent partner, and the interaction of the three in this 15 minute work is carefully crafted and delightful to hear.

The Piano Sonata No. 1 of 1985 is dedicated to Roger Sessions, and maintains a lot of that composer’s own difficult textures and thickly oriented chords. But unlike Sessions, Harbison gives us more than enough to hang onto rationally, while still making the journey one of considerable demands. This is not an easy piece, but certainly an exhilarating one. All of the performers are excellent, and the sound is very good in each selection. It is obvious that Bridge took a lot of care with this release, and the series is off to a fine start.

— Steven Ritter
 

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