Mark Abel is one of our most accomplished art song composers, with an impressive body of work that grows by the day. One hallmark of his legacy is his artistic adventurousness; he is a composer with bold and ambitious ideas and the resourcefulness to nearly always bring those ideas to full and effective fruition. His latest collection … marks a new level of excellence we have not seen before.—Gregory Berg, The Journal of Singing
The standout among these compelling works has to be “Those Who Loved Medusa,” a captivating setting of a remarkable text by Kate Gale. … It is a tale of operatic intensity and Abel responds with a setting that is shattering and haunting. The piece combines solo soprano and piano with an array of percussion instruments that give the work a sense of otherworldly mystery. One of Abel’s daring choices is to craft a vocal line that is cruelly stratospheric, undoubtedly to help convey Medusa’s anger and anguish. It is a tribute to the composer’s careful craftsmanship as well as soprano Hila Plitmann’s skillful singing that the text can be understood, and the sound never veers into stridency. It is a remarkable achievement. …
The disk opens with “The Invocation,” which features a touching text by the composer himself that reflects on life’s uncertainties and difficulties. It reads in part:
We are tempted, we succumb,
sometimes dangle from the bottom rung.
All the while echoing the saddest songs we’ve sung.
If this text is any indication, Abel is as capable a poet as he is a composer. The words work beautifully on their own, but they also cry out for music to give them flight. Abel responds with a setting that is sensitive and evocative. … Another of his own texts, “The Benediction … ,” is interspersed with unsettling images of empty malls, thinning small towns, and a young man harboring angry resentment as he cleans his gun in contemplation of a violent act. Abel is painting a vivid portrait of a modern America grappling with discontent and uncertainty. …
Abel’s texts are also featured in the three songs that comprise “In the Rear View Mirror, Now.” This particular song cycle is laden with discouragement and disillusionment … . Nevertheless, one cannot argue with Hila Plitmann’s expressive singing or with Abel’s gift for conveying unvarnished emotional truth, however unpleasant it sometimes needs to be. Far lovelier is “The Ocean of Forgiveness,” a cycle with exquisite texts by Joanne Regenhardt. This is the most consistently beautiful and atmospheric music on the disk, and these songs allow mezzo soprano Janelle DeStefano to demonstrate the full radiance and grace of her singing. …
Abel was a professional journalist for more than two decades, and clearly his work as a composer is richly informed by his keen interest in societal issues and concerns well beyond the arena of music making. … Nothing he writes is accidental or arbitrary; he is a meticulous craftsman who obviously cares deeply about the songs he writes and shares with the world. May there be many more to come.
©2018 National Association of Teachers of Singing. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved
See the full review in the September/October issue in print and online at www.nats.org