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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Mark Abel's Art Songs CD Time and Distance



    Time and Distance - Works for voice and piano (plus organ and percussion in some tracks)
    Music by Mark Abel, contemporary American composer
    Lyrics / poems by Mark Abel (tracks 1, 3 through 5, and 11); Kate Gale (track 2) and Joanne Regenhardt (6 through 10)

    Delos release (March 9, 2018) # DE 3550 on CD, available on Amazon for $17
    Total playing time 57:03
    The insert contains two very good essays, one by Lindsay Koob, and a very informative one by the composer himself, in addition to all the lyrics (illustrated by some beautiful black-and-white pictures), shots of all artists with biographic blurbs, credits, and sound track list with duration of each song.

    Track list

    1. "The Invocation"

    2. "Those Who Loved Medusa"

    In the Rear Mirror, Now (short song cycle)
    3. "The Long Goodbye"
    4. "The World Clock"
    5. "The Nature of Friendship"

    The Ocean of Forgiveness (song cycle)
    6. "Desert Wind"
    7. "Sally's Suicide"
    8. "In Love with the Sky"
    9. "Reunion"
    10. "Patience"

    11. "The Benediction"

    Artists (voice and instruments)

    Hila Plitmann, soprano - tracks 2 through 5, and 11
    Janelle DeStefano, mezzo-soprano - tracks 1, and 6 through 10.
    Carol Rosenberger, pianist - tracks 1 and 2
    Tali Tadmor, pianist - tracks 3 through 11
    Bruce Carver, percussionist - track 2
    Mark Abel, organist - tracks 3 through 5

    Opera Lively interviewee Mark Abel has released his fourth CD with Delos. This one contains two short song cycles and three additional art songs. Read the composer's interview [here], and reviews of his chamber opera Home is a Harbor [here], and of his excellent song cycle The Palm Trees are Restless [here].

    Those familiar with his two works above-mentioned will find some old friends here. The poetry of Kate Gale had already been set to music and recorded by Abel, Plitmann, and Tadmor in The Palm Trees are Restless, and Janelle DeStefano sang the double roles of Linda and Lenore in the composer's chamber opera.

    These talented artists are again put to good use. The two singers do very well, with Grammy-winning Hila Plitmann once again displaying her agility, range, and purity of sound (I particularly loved her in "The Benediction"), while DeStefano is warm and engaging in the reflexive and melodious The Ocean of Forgiveness.

    As far as the poetry goes, I found the present album to be even more interesting than the one I have previously reviewed. We are talking contemporary music, and these lyrics and poems are, well, very contemporary indeed. For example, Kate Gale's poem "Those Who Loved Medusa" talks about the mythical creature's rape by Poseidon, with a jealous Athena being very accusatory: "rape is the fault of the victim." The song describes how Medusa, before being made into a monster, was simply a woman who was the victim of repeated abuse. The lines are powerful and fit right into recent events.

    This theme of the here and now continues with Mark Abel's own strong poetry in the short cycle made of "The Long Goodbye," "The World Clock," and "The Nature of Friendship," which describe the gentrification of San Francisco and the impact of psychotherapy, social media, and technology on human relationships, complete with a quotation of Berg's Lulu.

    Even more political is the song I liked the best, "The Benediction," when again the composer writes his own courageous lyrics, addressing the fractured nature of current American society, all the way to the gun-totting lone wolves who commit mass murder: "Somewhere a young man cleans his gun. 'They have stolen my America,' he cries. Who will draw the poison from his heart? A girl or God, we pray." Abel had already added: "I sense a building tide sweeping across a discontented land that needs renewal."

    Despite its somber tone, "The Benediction" ends on a positive note: "Of this she is sure: yesterday is gone and open hearts must point the way. And with her go the hopes of all, from sea to shining sea." [Reviewer's note: Insert goosebumps here].

    This tempers a bit the bitterness of the longer (and very beautiful) song cycle The Ocean of Forgiveness, which sets to music five poems of Joanne Regenhardt that are laden with despair and suicide, echoing the very first song, "The Invocation," where Abel also proposes a bleak picture that ends with the line "Why must happiness be earned?"

    Musically speaking, low, melancholic Bs and Bflats for the organ, and rumbling, deep percussion add some variety to the usual piano-and-voice art song set-up, easing up what I found to be the only shortcoming of this album: some vocal lines along the 57 minutes appear to be a bit repetitious, with a similar and recurring structure of long sustained high notes. I suppose that, besides being a valid style, it has to do with the emotions being colored here, which often evoke a plaintiff feeling. Anyway, I guess it depends on the mood of the listener too, but personally, I liked better the piano parts and the lyrics, as well as the pieces in which this relative sameness wasn't present.

    In summary, this is an artsy (in the good sense), intelligent, sensitive, and sophisticated album that encourages deep thinking when it touches a number of contemporary issues, with exquisite lyrics and technically accomplished instrumentalists and singers. It is a very recommended purchase, for lovers of contemporary music and poetry.

    Mark Abel has been collecting unanimously good reviews, and we'll continue to follow his career with interest.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); June 11th, 2018 at 11:07 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Mark Abel kindly let me know that they did a short film with soprano Hila Plitmann, on "Those Who Loved Medusa." It is interesting and well done, featuring an impressive dramatic performance by Hila.

    Abel said of this film: "The making of it was an incredible experience -- 11 hours nonstop, with Hila plowing straight through despite multiple costume and makeup changes, and retakes until the director got what she was looking for. She is one amazing performer."

    Here it is:

    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); June 11th, 2018 at 11:08 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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