“The musical vocabulary … is approachable, mostly easy on the ear and … somewhat timeless.”
“Myths have fierce contemporary relevance, and nowhere more so than (in the song Those Who Loved Medusa), where the rape … plugs directly into the ‘Me Too’ movement.”
Composer Mark Abel is clearly at home writing for the human voice. The musical vocabulary on display here is approachable, mostly easy on the ear and also somewhat timeless. The first piece, The Invocation, sets a text by the composer on life’s ambiguities. At once an acceptance of the human condition and an extended musical question mark, it is given in an assured performance by mezzo Janelle DeStefano. The close recording seems to refer more to popular recorded music balances but is nonetheless involving, and the rapport between DeStefano and Carol Rosenberger is clear.
Moving from a portrait of our lot as humans (“It is a trek. We see that now”) to Greek legend, Abel sets a text by Kate Gale, Those Who Loved Medusa. Not his first setting of Gale (see The Palm Trees Are Restless on the Delos disc Home Is a Harbor), this piece adds percussion to the mix, from the crotale of the opening to the ritualistic pounding of a drum in the background. Myths have fierce contemporary relevance, and nowhere more so than here, where the rape of Medusa plugs directly into the “Me too” movement. Grammy-winning soprano Hila Plitmann is a superbly assured interpreter, fiercely focused in the disturbing subject matter. And disturbing it certainly should be.
The text for the extended song-cycle In The Rear View Mirror, Now is again furnished by the composer. The addition of an organ (played by the composer) to the voice and piano adds a certain depth to the sound picture, as well as casting a certain haunting shadow. The three poems are linked by “a shared umbrella of disillusion,” in the composer’s own words. Plitmann’s upper register is tested and comes across with laser-like precision yet without ever sounding uncomfortable. The second song, “The World Clock,” is a requiem for a city ushered in by an “iPhone World Clock”; but the most powerful song is the final “The Nature of Friendship”. Plitmann’s unerring sense of line enables her to narrate the song most effectively; the text slips in a nice reference to Schigolch in “Lulu’s London garret”.
Ceding the text to former opera singer Joanne Regenhardt, the song-cycle The Ocean of Forgiveness is a five-song exploration of Nature and its power. The smokier voice of a mezzo (DeStefano) is the perfect choice for this world where simple, unaccompanied vocal gestures can speak volumes. The musical language itself is more complex than in the pieces heard so far; the desolation of “Sally’s Suicide” is palpable, while it is the striking simplicity of “In Love with the Sky” that makes it all the more powerful. Tali Tadmor’s piano playing is particularly striking in this song-cycle. The piano has a voice of its own, one might contend, and a strong voice at that. The single piano line that opens “Patience” is an incredibly poignant example.
Finally, The Benediction (text by the composer). It is a cry for “truth and reason” in an uncertain America and holds at its heart a message of hope, young people who with open hearts can take us forwards. Plitmann’s performance is searing in its intensity.
A most varied collection, therefore, from a composer who clearly finds his best expression through setting texts that resonate with him on a deep level.
—Colin Clarke, Fanfare
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