Jed Distler
November 1, 2009

In his book The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross calls Louis Andriessen “the only major European minimalist.” You wouldn’t know that from the four works on this disc. True, there’s repetition, but not in the Glass/Riley/Reich sense of the word. Scored for percussion and three keyboards, the opening work, Bells for Haarlem, is built from long sustained chords that strike at unpredictable intervals, with a subtle melody taking shape as the piece progresses. The other three works showcase mezzo-soprano Cristina Zavalloni, who fuses jazz/pop vocal technique, classical musicianship and a strong acting ability in ways similar to the late Cathy Berberian, with whom Andriessen worked.

Passeggiata in tram in America e ritorno and the late-Stravinsky-inspired song-cycle La Passione incorporate Italian writer Dino Campana’s emotive, unique prose poetry, and feature dialogues between Zavalloni and violinist Monica Germino that run the gamut from slow and statuesque (La Passione‘s concluding song) to jagged dance steps (about six minutes into Passeggiata). However, Andriessen’s pliable technique and gifts for word-coloring truly hit home in Letter from Cathy. The text is a letter from Berberian to the composer describing, among other things, a dinner with Stravinsky that resulted in the composer’s recasting Elegy for JFK especially for her. Andriessen constantly shifts the music to reflect the words, and the overall effect is subtle rather than merely literal. Although Zavalloni’s English pronunciation is heavily accented, you understand every word. Close-up, clearly defined yet well-blended engineering do accurate justice to Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project members’ spirited, rhythmically focused interpretations. Highly recommended.

- Jed Distler

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