As reported earlier this week, John Corigliano's song cycle Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan has won a Grammy award as Best Classical Contemporary Composition. This disc went into my CD player shortly after it crossed my desk, and I liked it but never got around to reviewing it. According to his liner note, Corigliano had never heard the Bob Dylan songs whose poems he used as the basis of his new composition, an assertion that stretches credulity with a song like Blowin' in the Wind. Someone who does not listen to a lot of popular music, in whose number I am certainly to be included, might not have heard several of the Dylan songs, or perhaps had heard Mr. Tambourine Man only as covered by William Shatner, but Blowin' in the Wind? Your head would have to have been buried under a rock since 1962.
Corigliano, Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan, H. Plitmann, Buffalo Philharmonic, J. Falletta
(released on September 30, 2008)
In any case, Corigliano saw the Bob Dylan lyrics as a blank canvas, and there are no references to Dylan's music in the score, at least not obvious ones. The cycle was composed first for voice and piano, for Sylvia McNair, who premiered it at Carnegie Hall in 2000. When he revised it for orchestra, he specified that the soprano was to be amplified, so that the singer would not have to give sound of operatic proportions just to be heard. This worked just fine for Hila Plitmann, who premiered the new version in 2003 with the Minnesota Orchestra: we have heard her in similar format in the music of David Del Tredici, including the NSO's performance of Final Alice and a recording of Paul Revere's Ride. Plitmann, whose voice (especially here) has uncanny parallels to that of Dawn Upshaw, also won this year's Grammy for Best Classical Vocal Performance. JoAnn Falletta leads the Buffalo Philharmonic in a capable and sensitive accompaniment to Plitmann's emotional performance, which reaches its apex in the blood-curdling shrieks of Masters of War: "And I'll stand o'er your grave / 'Til I'm sure that you're dead!"