Review:  "A Handful of World" 
 

Classical Recordings

Discs Filled With Discoveries

Published: February 3, 2008

LISA BIELAWA:  ‘A Handful of World’

Lisa Bielawa, vocalist; Carla Kihlstedt, violinist and vocalist; Jacqueline Leclair, English hornist; Cerddorion, conducted by Kristina Boerger. Tzadik 8039; CD.

AS a singer in the Philip Glass Ensemble and a founder of the adventurous MATA Festival, Lisa Bielawa has become better known for promoting other composers’ music than for her own. That imbalance has lately been redressed, thanks to high-profile commissions and a residency with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. And though she remains woefully underrepresented on disc, “A Handful of World” hints at the variety of her work.

The unifying principle of this musically disparate collection is literary. Ms. Bielawa takes her texts from Kafka’s meditations, the Book of Lamentations and Aeschylus’ “Suppliant Maidens,” and she responds to each with music that suggests a deeply personal and contemporary resonance for even the most ancient and mythical of them.

“Kafka Songs” (2003) is scored for a violinist who sings, a tall order given the rhythmic independence of the two lines and the fluidity with which the vocal music moves through stretches of octave-hopping angularity, Sprechstimme and poplike styles. Carla Kihlstedt’s dark-hued, vibrato-free soprano and energetic violin draw a focused emotional intensity from this unsettled quality.

Ms. Bielawa does her own singing in “A Collective Cleansing” (2000), but where Ms. Kihlstedt’s performance was recorded without overdubbing, Ms. Bielawa’s is a study in electronic technique. She makes her way through the Aeschylus text as a soloist, as both voices in closely harmonized duets and as a thick-textured chorus, with spatial effects and rumbling electronic sounds. The results are stylized and seductive, with a sense of melding the antique and the futuristic.

That effect also animates “Lamentations for a City” (2004), in which an overlay of whispering gives the wrenching emotionality of the Jeremiah text setting a haunted quality, and an English horn line amplifies the changing mood of the choral writing, rendered here by the vocal ensemble Cerddorion. ALLAN KOZINN

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/03/arts/music/03reco.html?ex=1202706000&en=2c5488c9de6930f2&ei=5070&emc=eta1


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