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Osvaldo Golijov, Ayre (2004), and Luciano Berio, Folk Songs (1964), Dawn Upshaw, The Andalucian Dogs, released September 27, 2005
However, I have been quite disappointed listening to this new recording of Golijov's song cycle for voice and chamber ensemble, Ayre. (You can hear a few selections from the CD here.) There are some pretty little tunes in this cycle, like the creepy infanticidal Una madre comió asado, with its simple harp accompaniment, and the cantillation-like lullaby Nani. However, these are both traditional Sephardic tunes, arranged by Golijov. The beautiful and sultry love song Suéltate las cintas has both lyrics and music credited to Gustavo Santaolalla, who plays guitar and ronroco with the Andalucian Dogs ensemble. What appears to tip the scales and make the process that resulted in Ayre more assemblage than composition is the eighth "song," which is nothing but Upshaw reciting the English translation of a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, and part of that poem then obscures the rather ugly sounds of the tenth "song."
Dawn Upshaw has a beautiful voice, which she uses to great effect on some of the tracks. At the same time, on some of the songs Upshaw makes what I can only call ugly sounds. These are, in all honesty, things that I never want to hear again, like the first song, Mañanita de San Juan, and several others. This reminds me of my negative reaction to movies like Monster, for which a beautiful woman, Charlize Theron, was made to look horribly ugly. Aileen Wuornos's story is indeed tragic, but I find the thought of making a beautiful actress look ugly to be the worst kind of chicanery. Somewhere there must be ugly actresses to play ugly characters and fat actors to play fat characters, aren't there? By extension, if you want to have someone sing crude, nasal, unpleasant sounds, please don't ask Dawn Upshaw to do it. Get someone who has an ugly voice. They are out there.
By contrast, Luciano Berio's Folk Songs (1964), for voice and seven instruments, is a collection of 11 delights. It is easy to understand why this cycle appeals to Golijov, combining as it does pre-existing melodies with very simple accompaniments. However, Berio's idiom is more varied, and he clothes the melodies with something more interesting than their original trappings, while Golijov, whose style is already dominated so much by folk and pop sounds, adds very little to his.
Jens F. Laurson, Now That's Cross-Over: Ayre & You've Stolen My Heart (February 7, 2006)
Overall, however, I have to agree with Richard Dyer of the Boston Globe, who initially called Golijov's cycle "uneven," which is a kind way to put it. For a contrasting opinion, see Alex Ross's glowing review in the September 26 issue of The New Yorker. In fact, this CD is on Alex's Top 10 List for 2005. Vive la différence!