Gary William Friedman: Colloquy
Ed Matthew (clarinet), Antoine Silverman (concertmaster), Gary Sheldon (conductor)
Recorded September 11, 2007, New York City
Song of Moses:
Ory Brown, Margery Daley, Martin Doner, Misa Iwama Drew Martin, Steven Moore, Greg Purnhagen, Charles Sprawls, Kathy Theil (singers), Joshua Rosenblum (conductor)
Recorded January 15 and May 22, 2008, New York City
Judith Nelson (viola), Judith Lynn Stillman (piano)
Recorded July 10, 2007, New York City
My Heart's Friend:
Silvie Jensen (soprano), Dominic Inferrera (baritone), Gary William Friedman (conductor)
150 Music/Sumthing Distribution, New York, New York, 2008
Recording Time: 57'; English language booklet
150 Music Reference # 150M10
Composer Gary William Friedman is a familiar presence in the American music scene, having garnered an OBIE award and TONY nomination with his score for The Me Nobody Knows as well as scoring a number of films. The young, and young-at-heart, will also treasure him for his long association with television’s The Electric Company, as music director. His work in the more serious, so-called “contemporary classical” idiom is less well known. Colloquy, Friedman’s intriguing new CD of orchestral and vocal offerings may go some distance in changing that.
The composer’s background in film and theatre is quite evident in the disc’s opening selection Passages, an 18-minute clarinet concerto originally set in 1993 and revised for this recording, here conducted by Gary Sheldon with the central instrument expressively wielded by Ed Matthew. There is a definite narrative quality to this dissonantly tuneful piece (the opening measures rather recall Humphrey Searle's evocative score for The Haunting, in fact), and an impressive palette of emotional coloring. The title’s etiology is left ambiguous in the liner notes, but what with the utilization of bits of klezmer one might glean that the piece affectively traces a Jewish life trajectory, incorporating as it does all the delightful humor those musical influences suggest into an overall fabric that is by turn vaguely unsettling or somewhat melancholy - and in the work’s concluding passages (pun intended) quite heartrending. It is a fascinating composition, possibly the most enjoyable of the lot here, and brings increased satisfaction with repeated listening.
Song of Moses, an a cappella choral work in two parts (their composition separated by some two decades) shows a similar affective awareness, fielding a developmental arc that progresses from the somber declamation of the initial writing, to an exultant titular song, and the creative use of jazz influences boasted by the Amen with which the work resolves. Friedman's writing here is quite beautiful, and is dispatched with great musicality by conductor Joshua Rosenblum and the vocal forces involved; one hopes this work finds the continued life in the contemporary choral repertoire it richly deserves.
The liner notes inform us that Colloquy, the sonata for viola and piano for which the CD takes its name is “unabashedly atonal” - an entirely accurate characterization, though one that perhaps minimizes the impact of some real lyricism glimmering throughout the piece. The sonata is deftly rendered by the New York Philharmonic’s Judith Nelson and pianist Judith Lynn Stillman.
The disc concludes with My Heart’s Friend, a setting of four poems for soprano (Silvie Jensen) and baritone (Dominic Inferrera). Originally scored for four-handed piano, the work has been re-imagined for a string orchestra, and is here led by Friedman himself. The singers skillfully achieve a notably mellifluous timbral blend in what is some quite challenging vocal writing and render the text, which traces the poetry of James Joyce, William Blake, Harrison Smith Morris and a concluding setting of a Shoshone love song, quite expressively.
If I have any complaint with the disc, it lies with this final group of songs; attractive as these four settings are individually, as a complete unit they do not quite pluck the affective chord they potentially may have so done were they conceived with a greater variety of aural coloring; there is a want of the sort of emotional propulsion that characterizes the best of song cycles, despite whatever individual beauties are on display here. Regrettably too, the booklet provides no texts, though the sung English is quite understandable. These are minor niggles, however. Any lover of serious contemporary music should be pleased with Friedman's disc; there is much here to delight the ear, and quite a bit to challenge the mind as well.
Mark Thomas Ketterson