Culture > Music

Sweelinck: Master of the Dutch Renaissance

Music

Issue: "Schock factor," Jan. 31, 2009

Style: Two hours of the organ music of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), plus compositions by Byrd, Heinrich Schneidemann, and selections from the Susanne Von Soldt Notebook.

Worldview: "Sweelinck's music can be characterized by two words: stasis and kinesis. . . . [T]he listener will note a sense of calm and ease at the beginning . . . only to find the work concluding with a lengthy display of brilliance, fast scales, thick texture, and what we might call today an exhibition of pyrotechnics" (the liner notes).

Overall quality: A glacially magisterial performance.

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Romanza

By Guy Few & Nadina Mackie Jackson

Style: With the Toronto Chamber Orchestra; subtitle: "Works for Trumpet, Como de Caccia, Bassoon and Orchestra" (by Hummel [1775-1837], Lachner [1807-1895], and Weber [1786-1826]).

Worldview: "Courtly yet amiable, the romanza . . . was the perfect vehicle for the wind virtuosi of the 19th century, players demonstrably capable of delicately persuasive expression and dazzling flights of fingers" (the liner notes).

Overall quality: As luminous in its tracing of the Classical-to-Romantic transition as Few and Jackson's Bacchanale was in its celebration of Shostakovich, Hindemith, and Persichetti.

Light All Around

By The Master's Chorale

Style: An unusually eclectic assortment of (mostly) sacred choral pieces in (mostly) a cappella arrangements.

Worldview: That in Christ there is no East or West, as the program samples from the best of both: old spirituals ("Stayed on Jesus"), recent spirituals ("O Sinfuni Mungu"), Barber's "Agnus Dei," Thompson's "The Best of Rooms," Holst's "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence," and a vocal arrangement of "Flight of the Bumblebee."

Overall quality: Both an impressive survey of Christocentric choral music and an accessory to worship, whether corporate or private.

Robert Benford Lepley: Visions Within

By Meryl Streep & the New York Voices with Amy London

Style: Six "Spiritual Poems of Ranier Maria Rilke Interpreted Through Vocal Chants and Harmonies" (the subtitle)-and through "sensitive" recitations by Meryl Streep.

Worldview: "I used Rilke's poems because their profound existential nature has the power to connect ancient symbols to the 'sacred' found deep within the human psyche" (Robert Benford Lepley's liner notes).

Overall quality: A mixed bag to be sure: Sometimes Lepley's blending of "ancestral harmonies" with jazzy "tone clusters" serve Rilke's verse; sometimes the verse feels more like a point of departure.

Spotlight

When it comes to serious musical settings of worthwhile poetry, even the failures-or, as in the case of Robert Benford Lepley's Visions Within (MSR), the partial successes-deserve attention. And because the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke that Lepley has set to music was written in German and therefore comes to speakers of English only in translation, any attempt to capture that which is inevitably lost is welcome.

Alas, as Lepley has used Robert Bly's translations-which, for better or worse, deliberately compress Rilke's more lyrical qualities-Lepley has an inordinate amount of capturing to do, and sometimes the more jarring paces through which he puts the five or six New York Voices feel like overcompensation. Often, however, the challenge of following Rilke's verse as it's stretched and twisted heightens the concentration much as the careful reading of great poetry can. And the top-billed Meryl Streep recites poetry better than she sings ABBA songs.

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