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Reviews for recent Philharmonia CDs–Performances of Fairouz and Zeisl

October 28th, 2015 · No Comments

Professor Neal Stulberg, Director of Orchestral Studies and Chair of the UCLA Department of Music, passed along these recent reviews from Opera News and OZ Arts Review, an online music review journal from Australia.

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FAIROUZ: Symphony No. 3, Poems and Prayers
Sasha Cooke; David Kravitz; David Krakauer (clarinet); UCLA Chorale, University Chorus, and Philharmonia, Stulberg.
Texts and translations. Sono Luminus DSL-92177

by Joshua Rosenbaum
Opera News
December 2014

It is startling, to say the least, to hear a large choral symphonic work by an Arab-American composer begin with an urgent, galvanizing setting of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. The piece in question is Mohammed Fairouz?s grandly ambitious Symphony No. 3, subtitled Poems and Prayers. By alternating between settings of Arabic, Aramaic, and Hebrew poetry, Fairouz?s work pleads for peace between two perennially warring peoples ? Palestinians and Israelis ? by bearing musical and poetic witness to their horrifying mutual suffering and, consequently, making plain what unites them as human beings, despite their deep and obvious differences. The last couplet of the Kaddish, ?Oseh shalom bimromav,? recurs between the symphony?s four larger movements as a rondo-like refrain with different musical settings, returning at the very end in close to its original form. Throughout the work there are clear elements of both Jewish and Arabic musical traditions, as well as evocations ? both overt and implicit ? of illustrious Western works like Beethoven?s Ninth, Bernstein?s Kaddish Symphony, and John Adams?s Nixon in China. Fairouz?s quest is clearly for something universal, and he achieves exactly that by showing that these diverse strands can be woven into a coherent, original, and quite moving musical tapestry.

The especially distinctive second movement (?Lullaby?), for clarinet and soprano with delicate orchestral accompaniment, was originally composed in 2008 upon the death of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, from whose State of Siege the text is drawn. The wailing, sinuous melodic lines are very self-consciously Middle Eastern, with clarinet and voice shadowing each other in unison, thirds, and octaves. The text sounds like a love poem, but we learn in a wrenching twist at the end that it?s a woman speaking to her son at his funeral. Mezzo Sasha Cooke shows mournful, idiomatic brilliance interacting with virtuoso clarinetist David Krakauer in this movement. (Krakauer also brings his astonishing klezmer stylings to bear in Tahrir, or ?Freedom,? the riotous, Arabic-flavored work for clarinet and orchestra that opens the disc.) The third movement, ?Night Fantasy,? draws from a work written by Palestinian poet Fadwa Tuqan just after the 1967 Six-Day War, which marked the beginning of the Israeli occupation. Here, Cooke partners with UCLA violinist Nicole Sauder to weave a quasi-Mahlerian spell of lamentation that cuts deeply.

The sprawling fourth movement sets Israeli poet Yehudi Amichai?s ?Memorial Day for the War Dead.? Fairouz covers a great deal of ground here: we encounter yearning, resonant melodies, both Hebraic and otherwise, as well as violent eruptions featuring scattered choral chanting and frenzied orchestral scampering; military march music; and an obsessively repeating instrumental figure that takes us inside the tortured brain of a man who has lost his son and wanders the street ?like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb.? There?s also a gigantic, nearly atonal vocal fugue, with a long, complex subject that creepily dies away each time at the very end upon reaching the word ?death.? Fairouz, in addition to his obviously deeply felt desire for Middle East peace, brings a considerable amount of knowledge and skill to bear; one can also note that while his modernist credentials are frequently in evidence, he also occasionally reveals a soft spot for a good old-fashioned, easily graspable melody.
Baritone David Kravitz is an extroverted and impassioned presence for extended passages, quite capably embodying the frightfully high stakes of the proceedings. In one of the ?Oseh shalom? passages, tenor James Callon sings fervently but with a certain tranquility that seems to offer the possibility of peace. Much of the heavy lifting, however, is done by university-level forces: the UCLA Philharmonia, Chorale, and University Chorus. They have clearly risen to the protean demands placed on them, performing with sturdy musicianship and considerable emotive power. Conductor Neal Stulberg has an impressively sure grasp of this challenging and multi-layered work, imposing discipline where it?s needed, and unleashing chaos where it?s demanded.

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ERIC ZEISL: UCLA Philharmonia cond. Neal Stulberg
Antonio Lysy (cello)
Yarlung Records 96820
by Neville Cohn
Australia’s online independent specialist music review journal
October 28, 2015

During intermission at a recent concert, I asked a number of people at random if they knew who Eric Zeisl was. Two looked at me blankly and shrugged their shoulders, saying they?d never before heard the name. Another thought he had something to do with the Bauhaus Movement ? and one wondered if he was a research scientist. No-one got it right ? and for this reason alone, this compact disc is timely and certainly worth listening to.

Quite apart from his credentials as a composer, Zeisl was connected to Arnold Schoenberg via the marriage of his daughter Barbara to Ronald, Schoenberg?s son.

(As is increasingly known these days, Barbara and Ronald?s son E. Randol Schoenberg is an attorney specialising in the recovery of art works stolen by the nazis. His most celebrated case relates, inter alia, to the famous painting The Woman in Gold by Gustav Klimt which inspired a recent movie in which Helen Mirren portrays Maria Altmann, the legal owner who, in spite of the Austrian government?s determination not to give up its ill gotten gains, secured, as a result of Randol?s powerful advocacy, the return to her of the Klimt portrait.)

Despite a good familial relationship between the two composers, Zeisl and Schoenberg inhabited strikingly different aesthetic and philosophical worlds. Schoenberg?s music rocked the then- musical establishment and for decades afterwards. Although most of Schoenberg?s works have been recorded, this is far from the case in relation to Zeisl?s oeuvre. So this compact disc is invaluable. It will bring to a new generation an appreciation of music that needs to be far better known.

Zeisl?s Kleine Sinfonie ?after pictures of Roswitha Bitterlich? makes for gripping listening. Bitterlich, now in her nineties and living in Brazil, was extraordinarily precocious, a mere 14 years old at the time of creating the four paintings which so inspired Zeisl. In fact, after viewing them for the first time, he hurried home and got down to work, completing the four-movement work, based on the four paintings, in four days!

Perhaps this accounts, if only in part, for the vividness of the music which doesn?t so much attract the attention as seize it.

Its first movement ? The Madman ? is couched in harsh, abrasive terms, radiating a sense of disorder, urgency and conflict. Much of it could be thought of as a gritty, in-your-face march macabre ? and conductor Neal Stulberg takes the young players of the UCLA Philharmonia through a riveting reading. There is as well a sad, romantic violin melody.

Fascinating liner notes include images of three of the four Bitterlich paintings which inspired the first three movements; this visual prompt makes a real difference in a first encounter with the music. I?d have liked to see, as well, an image of Expulsion of the Saints which inspired the finale.

Bitterlich?s Dead Sinners inspired Zeisl to write music that eerily suggest lost, hapless souls in torment and Neal Stulberg takes the UCLA Philharmonia impressively through its doom-laden measures. And trombone and horn give point and meaning to the picture showing two mourners gorging themselves with food and liquor at a wake.

And in the final movement, the players do wonders in focusing on Zeisl?s many evocations of spiritual anguish.

Zeisl?s Concerto Grosso has about it the sonic aura one associates with, say, some of Ernest Bloch?s Hebraic-themed works ? or a soundtrack one might associate with a Cecil B. DeMille biblical epic. As well, there?s the occasional grating dissonance that sets the teeth on edge. Throughout, Antonio Lysy is in impressive form, the solo line beautifully shaped and confidently stated, his bowing a model of its kind. Certainly, both soloist and UCLA Philharmonia respond to Neal Stulberg?s direction in a consistently meaningful way. Horns are especially fine.

Whether articulating the nimble, darting utterances that make of the central scherzo a rather wild and perhaps drunken dance ? or articulating the variations that comprise the finale with complete mastery ? it?s clear that all concerned are at the top of their game. Zeisl reserves some of his most satisfying ideas for the variations which are the sonic equivalent of the contents of an Ali Baba?s cave.

Sadly, Zeisl never heard his Concerto Grosso which he wrote in 1955/1956; it was dedicated to Gregor Piatigorsky. Its first airing was at the Zeisl Memorial Concert in 1959 in Los Angeles. Thereafter, it returned once more to limbo until 2012 when it was the prime work at a performance described as a Celebration of Eric Zeisl concert.

I hope this fine recording is heard by many. It certainly deserves to be.


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