Bond: Instruments of Revelation
Chicago Pro Musica
Rufus Muller, tenor. Jenny Lin, piano.
Total Time: 62:07
This new Naxos release allows listeners to explore some of Victoria Bond’s (b. 1945) more intimate works composed in the first decade of the new century. Bond studied composition with Ingolf Dahl and Roger Sessions and early in her career assisted on some of Paul Glass’s film scores. Some may know her from her Metropolitan Opera lectures. There are four pieces on this album which includes two works for chamber ensemble, a work for tenor and piano, and a piano piece.
The two chamber pieces open the album featuring musicians of Chicago Pro Musica. Instruments of Revelation (2010), from which the album takes its title, is a musical depiction of three Tarot cards. “The Magician” opens with a rather appropriately mysterious quality that shifts between some faster slights-of-hand. The central “The High Priestess” has a fascinating blend of semi-Impressionist ambiguity with repeating lyric lines that have a semi-Eastern quality. All ends with a blend of intensity and wit for “The Fool”. The music is a blend of accessible tonal language which may descend into more dissonant ideas and eventually even some more experimental techniques by the final movement. The ancient city of Pompeii serves as the inspiration for the second chamber work, Frescoes and Ash (2009). In this equally descriptive work, Bond moves us through a variety of scenes from street musicians, to comedic actors, to a visit to the Sybil, a glance in on Chiron teaching Achilles, and more. The final movement is a reflection of death casting what has been heard as a calm acceptance of the inevitable. Throughout, Bond’s ability to craft descriptive musical scenes serves for an engaging work that is equally dramatic with a post-modern classicism.
Leopold Bloom’s Homecoming (2011) is an exploration of a section from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Rufus Muller, who premiered the work, performs it here. The lengthy setting takes us through a variety of factual information as the character faces the death of his infant son. The seemingly random aspects of the text invite the listener to also make some of the intellectual connections Joyce requires. Here Bond interprets this as moments of silence which add to the dramatic tension in the music. The soloist both sings some rather gorgeous lines but there are also straight moments of narration that are spoken to guide the listener. Texts are provided to help aid the listener who wishes to follow this more closely. The accompaniment here tends to provide both a melodic support to the voice as well as adding some of the connective tissue to create a sense of foreboding or other dramatic inference. There are plenty of stunningly beautiful moments as the piece nears its final pages.
Finally, the album closes with Binary (2005) for piano. Bond explores how one might interpret this concept more familiar perhaps to those in computer science where “0” and “1” are the underlying components of everything. The two sections of the work tackle this in unique ways. In the first movement, Bond sets up large block chords against single melodic lines all based on the interval of a second. This is a strikingly visceral work that leans more towards a Bartokian dissonance. The concluding movement then shifts to explore this concept as rhythm using a Brazilian samba as a structural device for a set of variations. The music tends to be a bit more tonal with the rhythmic component working best to drive it forward.
The performances here serve the music quite well with some exquisite playing by the Chicago Pro Musica that help Bond’s often beautiful lyricism shine. Articulation and attention to detail also help set up her crisp rhythmic ideas quite well. There is good variety in this release which provides some appeal for those interested in chamber music, song cycles, or works for piano. But really, it lends itself to an exploration of Bond’s more intimate writing for these forces and her sense of dramatic shape to her thematic inspirations for these works.