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Briefly Noted: Gabriela Lena Frank Songs

available at Amazon
Gabriela Lena Frank / Dmitri Shostakovich, Songs, A. Garland, J. Abreu, J. Reger

(released on August 5, 2022)
Art Song Colorado DASP005 | 68'31"
Gabriela Lena Frank has been on my radar since she was composer-in-residence with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra a decade ago. Her music draws on her family's rich tapestry of cultural backgrounds: Peruvian/Chinese ancestry on one side and Lithuanian/Jewish on the other. Like Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, she is a sort of musical anthropologist, mining folk traditions to enrich her musical style, which is varied, expansive, and sui generis. From Art Song Colorado this month comes this new disc by baritone Andrew Garland and pianist Jeremy Reger, containing world premiere recordings of some of the composer's songs.

The song cycle Cantos de Cifar y el Mar Dulce (Songs of Cifar and the Sweet Sea) is a work completed in multiple versions. The eight songs for baritone recorded here, premiered in 2004 and 2007, were expanded into a half-hour duet with soprano, subsequently elaborated into a version with chorus and orchestra. The texts are by Nicaraguan poet Pablo Antonio Cuadra (1912–2002), who drew on his youth sailing on Lake Nicaragua to create the character of the mystical sailor Cifar. Frank's use of the baritone voice ranges widely, including feminine falsetto, folk techniques, and speech, with the enigmatic keyboard part often in imitation of the Nicaraguan marimba and other folk instruments. Both Garland and Reger respond to these demands with daring vulnerability.

Tenor Javier Abreu joins for Las Cinco Lunas de Lorca, composed in 2016 on a hallucinatory text about the assassination of the Spanish poet, by playwright Nilo Cruz. The two voices, often singing simultaneously, weave a horrifying dream narrative. (Cruz is also the librettist of Frank's first opera, El último sueño de Frida y Diego, which will be premiered this October at San Diego Opera.) Garland rounds out the program with Frank's Cuatro Canciones Andinas (1999), a set of four poems translated from Quechua by the folklorist José María Arguedas, and Shostakovich's culture-crossing Spanish Songs.

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