March 27 - Sounding Off

Wrote up March 25 Marin Symphony show for Commuter Times and 21st-Century Music....

Sound Waves

From whence inspiration? Without or within? The three composers featured on a recent subscription performance by the Marin Symphony (March 25) at San Rafael's Veterans Auditorium were all inspired by sources outside of themselves.

In the case of Claude Debussy and local composer Mark Volkert, the source was the sea. For Maurice Durufle, it was waves of sound stemming from that old fountain of inspiration, Gregorian chant. All right, maybe that's a bit of a fishy connection. But program annotator Jon Kochavi made the metaphoric plunge, so I'll swim with it, too.

While the grand Durufle Requiem sounds like a work from distant chronological shores, it was written in 1947. The actual melodic content is by-and-large derived/inspired from the traditional plainsong melodies of the Gregorian rite, which makes for fascinating, intriguing, at times almost surreal, cross-stylistic references, particularly for those familiar with the source material.

The surface textures and psychology, however, are as much directly inspired by Gabriel Faure's beautiful 1920 setting รข€“ for this is a comfort-and-peace requiem, rather than a fire-and-brimstone one (the latter type being exemplified by the blood- stirring and fearful renditions of Hector Berlioz, Giuseppe Verdi, and Igor Stravinsky). As such, the composition in question, while gorgeously reverent, is somewhat soporific, with nonetheless radiant contributions, in this case, by mezzo-soprano Katherine Tier, bass Matthew Trevino, and the Marin Symphony Chorus. By jettisoning, as Faure did, the dangerous "Dies Irae" ("Day of Wrath") text, the weight of the work falls later, in the "Libera me" ("Deliver me"), where the full component of singers and players were able to achieve a heavenly sheen.

The rest of the program was on this side of the cosmos, in the watery depths of Volkert's Songs from the Sea and Debussy's impressionist-classic La Mer (The Sea). Volkert was indeed up to the task of oceanic orchestration, providing color at every keel and haul of the two-movements-that-are-really-four entitled Storm at Night. Aurora and The World Below the Brine. Epilogue.

If it was difficult to grasp the why “ hey, so likewise is the aquatic realm in general“ and the Debussy bobs in related impressionistic waves, leaving some listeners structurally at sea. But this voyage, navigated by Music Admiral Alasdair Neale, found lucid passage, and left auditors keenly expecting further delightful musical ports of call.