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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Goldenthal
WORKS: Fire Water Paper: A Vietnam Oratorio
PERFORMER: Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Ann Panagulias (soprano), James Maddalena (baritone); Pacific Chorale & Children’s Chorus, Ngan-Khoi Vietnamese Children’s Chorus, Pacific SO/Carl St Clair
From the multi-award-winning stage and film composer of Alien 3 and Batman Forever comes a new oratorio. War, terrifying silence, and violent death invite simple statements as well as, hopefully, more complex ones. This work, despite a plethora of interwoven texts, is a direct utterance: a lament, a conjuring of brief images, which rub against each other to evoke not just a surge of emotion but a sense of purgation.


The instrumentation and word-setting is not without beauty (especially the Vietnamese flute and snatches of children’s songs); choirs will enjoy performing it. The work is gestural in concept: a cello elegy in the first movement from the splendid Yo-Yo Ma; an unnerving helicopter simulation, a pithy extended scherzo, a diabolic chorus listing Vietnam combat operations, a dose of Mahlerian threnody. Perhaps most effective are two extended solos, setting Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa, which freshen up the prevailing monodic feel: that for Maddalena in the first part, where a genuine feel for angular chromatic line surfaces; and that for Panagulias merging into duet in the final movement. Here, and at the close, Goldenthal achieves a dramatic cogency not wholly evident elsewhere. If not Psalmus hungaricus or A Child of Our Time, it’s at least related in spirit. A fine choir, and top-notch wind phrasing. Roderic Dunnett