By JOHN FLEMING, PHILIP BOOTH and ZACHARY LEWIS
Published January 15, 2006
Part: Lamentate (ECM New Series) - Maybe you had to be there. Arvo Part composed Lamentate in response to Anish Kapoor's sculpture Marsayas, which filled a vast hall at London's Tate Modern gallery. Seeing the work, Part felt as if, he says in liner notes, "I, as a living being, was standing before my own body and was dead - as in a time-warp perspective, at once in the future and the present." Kapoor's massive sculpture does indeed look mind-boggling in a photograph, dwarfing the orchestra set up below it for the 2003 premiere, and to hear Part's haunting music in the presence of its inspiration must have been a stirring experience.
However, in the more abstract medium of a CD, Part's 40-minute work for solo piano and orchestra can seem terribly spare and simple, almost to the point of stasis. It's performed by the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Andrey Boreyko conducting, with pianist Alexei Lubimov. A sense of stillness and contemplation, of course, is a trademark of the Estonian composer, whose "holy minimalism" is an important contribution to contemporary music.
Lamentate was also influenced, it would seem, by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (Part was born on Sept. 11, 1935), written not for the dead but for the living who struggle with the "pain and hopelessness of this world." The penultimate Risolutamente section is powerfully ominous, with hard-driving brass and piano. Some of Part's best work is for chorus, and this recording opens with a lovely prayer for peace, Da Pacem Domine, a Monkish chant given an ethereal performance by the Hilliard Ensemble, joined by soprano Sarah Leonard. B
- JOHN FLEMING, Times performing arts criticVarious artists, Our New Orleans (Nonesuch)
Crescent City musicians offer a set of intriguing new recordings on Our New Orleans, an alternately joyful and poignant reminder of all that's worth saving.
Allen Toussaint's Yes We Can Can opens with a blast of can-do optimism. Hope shines through with the second-line rhythms of the Wild Magnolias' Brother John Is Gone/Herc-Jolly-John, the Dirty Dozen's raucous, horn-crunching My Feet Can't Fail Me Now and the string-band bustle of BeauSoleil's L'ouragon.
For the Joe Henry-produced Back Water Blues, legendary singer Irma Thomas' familiar Big Easy R&B is replaced with gutbucket blues, as the singer's spooky vocals are undergirded by Doyle Bramhall II's slithering guitar fuzz. Crisis breeds creativity elsewhere, too: Cryin' in the Streets has party starter Buckwheat Zydeco downshifting to a mournful plea, limned with the leader's accordion swirl and Ry Cooder's inspired six-string surges; Davell Crawford's gospel-tinted Gather by the River is a heartbreaker; and Dr. John's World I Never Made is a molasses-slow shot of funk elegance. Hurts so good. A
- PHILIP BOOTH, Times correspondentChant Wars: Sequentia and Dialogos (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)
If medieval chant has ever begun to sound homogenous, this disc will correct the problem. Working together, the early music vocal ensembles Sequentia and Dialogos illustrate boldly, even to untrained ears, just how diverse chant is. In fact, chant's different forms used to be in competition with each other. Wars is a bit dramatic, perhaps, but the title is accurate insofar as liturgical cantors all across Charlemagne's Europe once vied for musical dominance. Singers varied their styles in hopes of gaining a larger foothold in the church and differentiating themselves from their Romanesque peers.
Recording in the historic French Abbey of Fontevraud, Sequentia and Dialogos present an astonishingly wide array of sound. Beyond the long, connected phrases common to all medieval chants, the music here varies in almost every possible way. Each piece represents a unique combination of texture, register, pronunciation and emotionality. Some exude a throaty quality of singing while others are deeper and from the chest, or nasal.
Striking, too, is the inclusion of a female voice (Katarina Livljanic, the director of Dialogos) in a medium typically reserved for men. Chant wasn't even entirely a cappella, as most listeners assume. The lyre gently accompanying a lament for Charlemagne seems foreign at first but turns out to be one of this disc's most beautiful and moving effects. A
- ZACHARY LEWIS, Times correspondent