American Record Guide
Allen Gimbel
September 1, 2009

Full Moon in March (1977) is John Harbison’s adaptation of a nasty Yeats “chamber play” dealing with the beheading of a filthy Swineherd (James Maddalena) who dares to court a bitchy virgin Queen (Lorraine DiSimone). His head winds up impaled on a stake, and the Queen does a hysterical dance (soprano DiSimone is replaced by a dancer). The piece is a small-scale but demonstrative Salome substitute set in Harbison’s pungent 70s Princetonian-Stravinskian style, his scoring embroidered with colorful prepared piano sonorities in the small accompanying ensemble. Lloyd Schwartz’s notes help sort out Yeats’s panting symbolisms. The piece is searingly effective, young man’s music performed with impressive virtuosity by these excellent singers, all of whom seem to be having a great time (the two Attendants, Anne Harley and Frank Kelley, function as the Chorus).

The also but less violently erotic Mirabai Songs (1982), on Robert Bly’s translations of the 16th century Indian woman poet’s texts, were originally written for voice and piano. Ms. Mirabai’s fascinating poems, addressed to none other than Krishna substituting for her deceased husband, can be heard nicely sung in their original version by Georgine Resick on Bridge 9200 (M/J 2007). Janna Baty has a big operatic mezzo, a little heavy on the vibrato for my taste, but musical and sympathetic to the texts. Harbison’s orchestration is beautiful and elegantly understated.

The program closes with a brief Exequien for Calvin Simmons (1982), former conductor of the Oakland Symphony, who died in a boating accident that year. The meandering elegy seems somewhat out of place in this context. As usual, Gil Rose’s ensemble is up to the task.

- Allen Gimbel

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