April 11, 2018

  • Exploring the Cosmos

     Brandman: Cosmic Wheel of the Zodiac

    Barbora Polaskova, mezzo soprano. Matej Chadima, baritone. Petr Ozana, piano.
    Prague Mixed Chamber Choir/Jiri Petrdlik;
    Navona Records 6160
    Total Time:  64:20
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: (*)***/****

    Australian composer Margaret Brandman is noted for her many years as an educator, composer, and performer with works in many genres.  Her music can be discovered on a number of recordings from the past few years as well.  The current release is a very postmodern one that explores how music’s quality can be subtly shaped by changes in the ensemble, namely from solo or duet songs, to choral settings of similar texts.  The astropoetry of Benita Rainer serves as the texts for this transversal through the zodiac exploring the unique characters of each astral sign.  The album is split into two sections focusing first on the solo song-like versions, and then presenting the choral versions.  The pieces tend to be mostly through-composed and explore a variety of harmonic modal and tonal realms.  The pieces are not in order of the zodiac itself.

    The Gemini song, “In Two Minds”, has an almost folkish musical quality with hints of jazz; recurring later in “Virgo Delight” (an almost Sondheim-like setting).  The evocative flourishes here come more to the forefront in “The Water Dragon” (Scorpio) with an almost Impressionistic style against the warm lyrical vocal writing.  Traditional harmony pops in from time to time in often telling, emotional arrivals.  This tends to inform the Broadway-like inflections of “The Mountain Goat” (Capricorn) or the love song “Dance of Life” (Cancer).  The melodies here tend to beautifully romantic statements which are woven into a more traditional art song quality.  One hears the latter from time to time when a bit more chromaticism enters into the music in “The Ram in Spring” (Aries).  These opening songs thus set up the sort of tonal approach to the texts that Brandman will take.  The piano lines help provide some of the forward motion, tending to support the melodic line often when not providing connective tissue between phrases.  As the cycle plays, one begins to get a sense of some of the larger connections harmonically, and melodically that move through the zodiac with little shifts that help color the nature of that particular sign.

    With the solo songs firmly implanted in the listener’s ear, the disc shifts into full choral arrangements.  The music has a deeper harmonic fullness as one might suspect.  Most telling are the closer harmonic clusters that lend the music an almost ethereal quality from time to time and add an extra level of dissonance to the music.  In this respect, the music tends to be closer to the likes of Whitacre or Laurindsen.  Certainly, there are some selections here that would be a welcome repertoire addition to college choral music.  The sliding, jazz harmonies and mostly modal or tonal melodic lines create an engaging listening experience.

    Navona has together a beautiful little compact release that includes a beautiful booklet with the texts.  The recording is well balanced here as well.  The solo performances are quite beautiful with clarity of diction less pronounced than some may like.  This comes and goes which suggests a compositional more than a performance issue though.  Otherwise, both soloists present compelling, and often stunning tone in these often touching little pieces.  The chorus sometimes feels a bit tentative in the dissonant components of the score, but otherwise provide some beautiful moments as well.  Petr Ozana, who is the accompanist in both settings, proves to be the perfect collaborator.  The music here is beautiful and quite accessible.


Comments (2)

  • I really like this CD. I particularly like the solo songs. The choir sounds like they are having fun too.

  • Margaret Brandman's exceptional compositional talents combine with Benita Rainer's outstanding ability as a poet and deep knowledge of astrology to make Cosmic Wheel of the Zodiac an extremely enjoyable experience for both astrologers and non-astrologers.

Comments are closed.

Post a Comment