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“California composer Mark Abel has expanded his creative horizons with this impressive double-CD package, his third release for Delos. The orchestral song cycle ‘The Dream Gallery,’ his debut disc for the label, showed a flair for sociologically incisive lyric writing and original musical development of decent length. But Abel has gone far beyond that with ‘Home Is a Harbor,’ a three-act opera running some 103 minutes. He wrote the libretto as well. This touching piece holds attention from beginning to end, presenting a timely contemporary saga with punch, pathos and, at times, humor. … Baritone Babatunde Akinboboye gives a powerful performance as the boyfriend of one of the sisters; he returns home from Afghanistan battered and drug addicted, and is eventually reduced to homelessness. The other singers rounding out the cast – baritone E. Scott Levin, mezzo Janelle DeStefano, tenor Jon Lee Keenan and bass Carver Cossey – display abundant skill and personality in their more limited roles. Conductor Benjamin Makino, the music director of Opera Memphis, keeps the colorful ‘Harbor’ score firmly on track while leading the La Brea Sinfonietta, a collective of excellent L.A. studio players that includes new-music mavens such as pianist Vicki Ray, organist Aron Kallay and cellist Timothy Loo. … Just as strong is the second offering in the package, Abel’s song cycle ‘The Palm Trees Are Restless: Five Poems of Kate Gale.’ The piece, running about 21 minutes, is a wonderful showcase for Israeli-born soprano Hila Plitmann and may be the most appealing recording she has ever done. … Abel’s “Palm Trees,” fueled by Gale’s incendiary poetry, gives Plitmann plenty of room to show what she can do. … Plitmann covers the spectrum of the piece magnificently, supported closely by pianist Tali Tadmor, who alternates between sensitivity and propulsion with ease and mastery. Abel’s melodic writing is as inspired as anything he’s done thus far and the piano parts are marvelously concise, conveying much with a minimum of notes. ‘Palm Trees’ is a great addition to the American art song literature.” —Theresa Colby
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