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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Music Review:
Charles Griffes
The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan...

As a fan of nineteenth-century poetry, I could not help stopping at the site of two CDs this evening in Borders. The first was Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, a song cycle that encompassed styles from classical to opera to reggae and succeeded in leaving me cold after the hearing of each. Maybe it was the recording (a Naxos). And maybe it's that it was (is?) a 20th century American composer. Whatever the case, after scanning and listening, I quickly deposited it in the "no thanks" bin while hoping Blake wasn't spinning too quickly in his grave over the existence of such things.

Then I stumbled upon another twentieth-century American composer (also on Naxos) with a piece entitled "The Pleasure Domes of Kubla Khan." My heart quavered for Coleridge, but I gave it a listen. Not bad. Sort of Shostakovich movie-music meets Debussy and Messiaen does the orchestration. In other words, a bit gloomy, a touch saccharine here and there, but very nice in places and eminently listenable. I do not think his pleasure domes sound like what I would envision - the caves of ice are there but listening through the first five or so minutes has not yielded up any damsels with dulcimers - maybe, like the poem, it's at the end. Still, there's a murky sadness like the lull in the third movement of Shostakovich's fifth symphony that pleases when you're in the mood for that sort of thing. The other compositions, largely referring to poetry or art, are pretty good, though in the song cyle - as is too often the case with Naxos recordings - the lady doth protesteth a bit much. But the Poem for Flute and Orchestra is nice and the White Peacock is, like the bird, very beautiful once fully opened up. Well worth the eight bucks.

posted by gbarto at 10:14 PM  


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