OPERA NEWS - The Lay of the Love
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Bielawa: The Lay of the Love

CD Button Rosales; Blumberg. Dueck, Hochman, Luest, piano; C. Jacobsen, violin; E. Jacobsen, cello; Suzuki, flute; McGill, clarinet. Texts. Innova 915

Recordings Bielawa Cover 1115

RAINER MARIA RILKE WROTE his prose poem The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke in a single fevered sitting in 1899, after discovering the existence of this eponymous relative, who died in a seventeenth-century battle. The poem found renewed purpose upon its reissue in 1912 as comfort and companion to German soldiers fighting in World War I. Composer Lisa Bielawa distills from Rilke’s longer poem a section in which Christopher takes refuge in a castle and enjoys what turns out to be his last romantic interlude. Bielawa has no interest in prettifying Rilke’s words or romanticizing this temporary idyll. She’s fluent in the language of atonality, less concerned with accessibility than creating a unique soundscape that captures all the harshness, futility and passion of this brief escapade.

In “Introit-Riding,” the hero emerges as if from a fog to a repetitive, percussive gait that captures the mind-numbing weariness of an endless advance. Personal pride encroaches on the national in “I Carry the Flag,” another soldier’s bravado-laced letter to his mother. The hopeful “Castle” contains the promise held by a return to civilization, and there is a purity to “The Tower Room,” in which delicate piano counterpoint accompanies the lovers’ tentative approach to their circumstantial tryst. This gives way to “Storm in the House,” and in an instant, the hero’s identity reverts to soldier again. “It Has Never Been so Kingly” depicts Christopher’s last, fatal sally with a cacophonous thrumming that evokes the mental chaos of a hero rushing headlong into battle. 

Baritone Jesse Blumberg imbues these songs with just the right balance of strength and fragility, while pianist Jocelyn Dueck tears ferociously into the piano parts. They are interspersed with solo meditations for violin (perhaps an homage to the sections of the poem that Bielawa skipped), played with poignant urgency by Colin Jacobsen. In “Hurry,” a setting of Boris Pasternak’s entreaty to his Muse, Sadie Dawkins Rosales’s innocent soprano soars plaintively above the restive instruments. The Muse, characterized by the fluttering flute, takes its time appearing; the song clocks in at almost sixteen minutes, a sly commentary on the Muse’s reticence at providing inspiration on command. The recording also includes “Wait,” a pensive, searching piece for piano and violin drone inspired by a brief passage from Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. —Joanne Sydney Lessner 

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