The Blue Hour
Song Cycle by Rachel Grimes, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, Caroline Shaw and Sarah Kirkland Snider
Shara Nova (vocals); A Far Cry
Nonesuch 75597907995 68:10 mins
Two recent all-female collaborations have turned blue: in the UK, Laura Bowler’s The Blue Woman – an unsettling exploration of the shattering impact of sexual violence – just premiered at the Royal Opera House, while in the US a quintet of composers present The Blue Hour, a song cycle based on Carolyn Forché’s poem of the same name. The latter is a more subtle reflection of dehumanisation, examined through alphabetically arranged phrases woven into 40 movements, each created by individual composers – Rachel Grimes, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova and Caroline Shaw. The narrative arc is difficult to follow without the text (not provided in the booklet note), except where Forché mentions ‘fragments from the second Brandenburg’, which are helpfully invoked by the ever-iconoclastic Caroline Shaw in ‘Firmament’. Here, as elsewhere, the vocal line is recited rather than sung (‘firmament, fissure, flare stars’).
Other composers, such as Snider in ‘He told her how’, switch between recitation and singing; the transition is not always smooth. The soloist is composer Shara Nova, whose own ‘Ghost swift’ recruits the voices of some of the other composers and collaborating ensemble A Far Cry for an eerie chorus (‘hayloft … hawfrost’), developed further in Shaw’s concluding ‘3rd Refrain’.
Boston-based A Far Cry – who commissioned the work – handles the ever-changing moods with poise, creating a sense of otherworldliness in movements like ‘A memory’, where distorted harmonies illuminate surrealist lyrics (‘a cup of sleep’), and trepidation in ‘Yet the women’.