Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Lior Ronser: Awake and Dream
Works by Lior Rosner
Janai Brugger; soprano
Katia Popov, violin
The Hollywood Studio Symphony
Steven Vanhauwaert, piano
Lior Rosner, conductor, piano
Lior Rosner is best known for his film and TV scores, which show the wide range of styles he's mastered. This collection of his classical works betrays some of that background -- the music is mostly tonal, and is more about conveying atmosphere and emotion than being concerned about formal structure. And yet these works aren't just fleshed-out film cues. Rather, they're compositions of real substance -- post neo-romantic, if you will.
Rosner's featured soloists are real standouts. Katia Popov performs with a clean, slightly steely tone that's well-suited to these modernist works. Awake and Dream is an impressionistic work that seems to float between dream and reality. Popov spins forth the long, flowing melodies effortlessly, moving from motive to motive seamlessly. The solo violin work "G-Pull" lets Popov display some of her technical skills, but it's her shaping of phrases and subtle articulation that holds the piece together.
Soprano Janai Bugger has a rich, warm voice, with an upper register that sounds well-rounded and clear. She beautifully performs "In time of Silver Rain," a song cycle based on Langston Hughes' poetry. Rosner's settings sound more like Copland and Barber than Duke Ellington, giving these poems a universally American character, rather than African-American. Bugger performs them in a simple, straight-forward fashion, letting the words themselves deliver the emotional impact. By contrast, Bugger provides the emotion for "Three Poems by Sappho." Her singing communicates the full range of emotions this cycle expresses, from ecstatic love to deep mourning.
While the soloists shine, the ensemble could use some polishing. The Hollywood Studio Symphony is a pick-up ensemble, made up of session musicians contracted for the project. There's nothing wrong with that -- but sometimes the ensemble doesn't quite jell. Attacks are a little imprecise and some entrances seem a little tentative. It's not a horrible sound, just a little rough around the edges. I'd be interested in hearing these works performed by an orchestra that has lived together for a while. I expect it would really make the music come alive.