LEON KIRCHNER: “Revelations” – Little Suite; Dawn; Three Songs; Words from Wordsworth; A Moment for Roger; The Twilight Stood, The Forbidden – Soloists /Leon Kirchner & Joel Fan, piano – Verdant World Records VWR002, 45:12 (1/18/13) ****:
The first three pieces are from his early composing life as a graduate student. His initial teacher Arnold Schoenberg and reflect the influence of the Second Viennese School, yet Kirchner is not counted as being a member. Nor do the works on this CD, while defiantly not tonal and stylistically similar to the works of the Second Viennese School, ever enter into the 12-tone technique. After the initial three, the selections are from each decade from the ’60s to 2006 (the ‘90s are skipped).
Among the mainly vocal works selected there are three piano solos included, I will take the solo piano works out of order and will cover them together even though they are separated by more than twenty years each. The piano works are far more atonal than the choral works and show a high degree of technical demand. Little suite written for his wife and is one of his earlier works on the disk. One could call it a miniature suite; five very short movements three of the five are between 25 and 40 seconds, the long movements are a minute and a minute-and-a-half. With the exception of “Song” the other movement are very chromatic. A Moment for Roger is literally that: 47 seconds. The Rodger being referenced is Robert Sessions who was a mentor of Kirchner and was writing as part of homage to Sessions. The Forbidden was commissioned and is dedicated to pianist on this disk, Joel Fan. While still very modern-sounding in its tonality there is a flair that is invoked, much like one hears when listening to the virtuosic piano composers. It is a very dynamic and engaging piece; I found it to be my favorite of the solo piano pieces.
The first vocal piece on the disk is Dawn, a setting for chorus and piano. It is named after the poem by Frederico Garcia Lorca. In Lorca’s work he is describing the dawn in New York City. In it he portraits the city in a very harsh light; It is a romantic-less, and cold. Still in this work Kirchner uses a more tonal sound while writing for the chorus and saving the more chromatic passage and technical writing for the piano interludes. The “Three Songs” are for soprano and piano are based on three poems. For the most part they are more atonal and closer in character to the piano works than for the choir, yet they are not as extreme as the concluding vocal work The Twilight Stood. Gerard Manly Hopkins’ “The Times Are Nightfall” a poem about the writer’s finding an inner sanctum to help against the external feelings of apathy and despair. Fittingly most of the music is very atonal until the last line which embraces the tonality as the writer embraces their inner strength. Sidney Alexander’s “A Letter to My Wife”, Kirchner shortens the title to just “Letter”, about “…love in time of war and social upheaval”. Again following the mood of the poem the music self is atonal, however unlike the earlier song where there is an arrival at an inner solution (expressed with tonality) the ending of this work is ambiguous. “The Runner” is by Walt Whitman, and at first reading and listening to is quite straight-forward: a description of a man running, with the music is fittingly rhythmic and moves along at a brisk pace.
In Words from Wordsworth we find Kirchner using, very effectively, Sprechstimme—a singing-speaking technique that can be very jarring to ears not accustom to it. Loosely translated it is “speak singing”, Schoenberg has been quoted explaining Sprechstimme as once the written pitch has been sung the singer “…immediately abandons it by falling or rising. The goal is certainly not at all a realistic natural speech.” The choral writing is much more compacted and denser than his earlier work Dawn and in this work there is no piano used. The Twilight Stood is a song cycle written with no breaks between the individual songs, the piano provides transitions between them. This turns the work to the longest single track on the CD. This work reminds me a bit when I first heard Alan Berg, fitting as they both studied with the same teacher, with extreme ranges and jumps for both the singer and piano.
This is a well-thought-out CD, a sampling of works that span the career of both a Pulitzer Prize winning composer and educator in some of America’s most noted music schools. One of the very interesting things I found on hearing the CD, was while there is a marked difference between some of his works, there is something very consistent with his style; there is a direct link from his early piano work in 1949 that can be heard in the latest piano work writing in 2006, almost 60 years apart.