T. PATRICK CARRABRÉ: ”War of Angels” = Inuit Games; Symphony No. 1 “The War of Angels”; Symphony No.3; The Dragon’s Tail – Pauline Pemik, Inukshuk Aksalnik, vocalists/Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra/Andrey Boreyko & Bramwell Tovey, conductors – Centrediscs CMCCD 18513, 62:03 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
T. Patrick Carrabré is closely affiliated with the Winnipeg Symphony, having spent six years as their composer-in-residence, and is a well known figure in the community for his work in arts radio as well as the artistic director of several performing arts organizations. He studied composition with Robert Turner in Manitoba and with Peter Paul Koprowski at the University of Western Ontario and, later, with George Perle.
I have no doubt of his importance as a professor and as a highly visible advocate for the arts throughout Manitoba. As a composer, he seems talented to be sure. This well-engineered and very well-performed small collection of his works offers an intriguing, but mixed view of his music.
The most unusual – and, therefore, most interesting – work in this collection is the first. Inuit Games is, as the title implies, a musical exploration of some aspects of the Inuit culture; the indigenous people of that part of Canada. Specifically, this work uses two “throat singers” who emulate the sounds heard in ceremonial singing, which apparently is often treated as a bit of a competition, almost an endurance contest (which, in Inuit dialect, is referred to as “katajjak”) There certainly is a kind of tribal ceremonial pulse to the music and the two female soloists produce an amazing set of vocalizations unlike anything in western “singing.” The work ends with soloists, orchestra and – perhaps – even the audience laughing; as is typically the outcome of these high-spirited friendly competitions; the “games.” The work is a very interesting little slice of unique culture and is just the right length to maintain interest. [Perhaps laughing at the end would improve the audience experience for a number of contemporary works, whether featuring vocalists or not…Ed.]
I actually thought the best work in the collection was the final The Dragon’s Tail, which is basically a non-programmatic orchestral work that happens to feature a prominent percussion part; most notably dual bass drums playing a rather threatening ostinato. (Not to mention the nifty use of the rope-and-tub “Lion’s Roar” à la Werner Josten’s Jungle near the end!) While Carrabré does not indicate a “story” behind the piece, the title and the resultant sounds do conjure up images of some mythical beast traipsing around the forests of Manitoba looking to wreak havoc on farmers (or something). I really enjoyed the feel of the work and the somewhat campy sounds.
As for the two symphonies, these are both well-constructed works and sound impressive enough but which, I admit, did not leave as strong or as unique an impression as the other two pieces.
Symphony No.1, “The War of Angels” is a good sized, three movement work whose title intentionally implies a sort of Biblical struggle between good and evil. Carrabré indicates there is no direct program and no actual names of the heavenly or the fallen are included to imply a battle; although it does sound tense and dramatic throughout. The Symphony No. 3 is a much shorter, but similarly constructed work that originally bore the subtitle “Death and Resurrection”. As Carrabré acknowledges in the booklet notes, he has an affinity for “dark, quasi-religious themes” but chose not to make this work imply anything in particular.
I did not dislike these two works but, for me, they just did not leave as strong or as clever an impression as did Inuit Games or The Dragon’s Tail. Part of the problem might be psychological and audience expectation. Subtitles tend to create an expectation; an anticipated layer of drama or profundity. These symphonies are pleasant enough and impressive enough with little bits of tension and release to drive them forward but, again, they did not leave me that “wow” feeling that I confess I was hoping for.
I would like to hear more from T. Patrick Carrabré, especially in the vein of The Dragon’s Tail. I envision he would do a great job in the world of film scoring, for example.