STEFAN WEISMAN: Darkling – Maeve Hoglund, sop./ Hai-Chinn, mezzo/ Jon Garrison, tenor/ Mark Uhlemann, bass-bar./ Tom Chiu & Philip Payton, v./ Kenji Bunch, viola/ Raman Ramakrishnan, cello/ spoken voices – Albany

by | Dec 9, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

STEFAN WEISMAN: Darkling – Maeve Hoglund, soprano/ Hai-Chinn, mezzo-soprano/ Jon Garrison, tenor/ Mark Uhlemann, bass-baritone/ Tom Chiu, violin/ Philip Payton, violin/ Kenji Bunch, viola/ Raman Ramakrishnan, cello/ various spoken voices – Albany TROY1315/16 (2 CDs), 86:13 ***:
Darkling is a Holocaust poem turned stage production by Anna Rabinowitz who in turn took inspiration from Thomas Hardy’s poem The Darkling Thrush, that focuses on, according to the New York Time’s critic Anthony Tommasini, “A young Polish couple hastily marry on the eve of Hitler’s invasion; the restless bride impulsively leaves for America, forsaking her husband, who, miffed and angry, follows her. There they endure an incompatible marriage, but at least they are safe: their families in Poland are exterminated. “ But this work is not plot-driven; instead we are treated to stage and tape voices than move in and out, a variety of aural images that tantalizingly suggest what might (or might not) be happening on stage. The music is sporadic and widely and wildly divergent in terms of style and utilization. It leaves the emphasis on the words—which evidently is the whole point—but them seems to me awfully recitation-like, like listening to a poetry recording with musical background. Following the poem closely helps a little, but I still kept feeling like I was missing out on something, something key to this collage-like piece that seems so dependent on the visual as well as the aural.
Curiously, despite the fact that the publicity behind this work quotes the aforementioned Anthony Tommasini’s apparent fondness for Weisman’s score, in fact he had problems in the same review with the production as a whole. And even more curiously, his problems centered around the fact that “The text is abstract and a jumble of images. Still, on the page you can ponder the words. In the stage work the words are spoken and sung both live and on tape, and almost continually projected on screens. The problem is that after a while the aural and visual jumble of words numbs you.” So Tommasini is not completely happy with the stage experience, the very thing that I feel I am missing when listening to the CD. Tommasini then says “At times, you almost want the gaggle of words to stop so you could better listen to the music. Yet bringing Ms. Rabinowitz’s words to life is supposedly the whole point of this production. “
So what is the answer? I am afraid that the medium in this case might very well be the message, and that message is that a hybrid work like this, no matter how powerful in its individual elements, may always be lacking something due to the very weaknesses of the concept itself. To confirm this I went out to YouTube and saw a number of clips from the production. What I was hearing on the CD in no way prepared me for the stunning visuals of the stage; yet I agree with Tommasini: either way you choose to hear this work you are going to be missing something.
So is this a noble failure? In many ways I think so, though I have no problems with Weisman’s clever and highly inventive, very personal music. But as a vehicle I do not think this works overall in this form, and those hearing this CD will have only the slightest inkling of what this piece is all about. It must be seen first. Performances and sound are first class.
—Steven Ritter