LABELS: Other Minds
WORKS: Le Testament (excerpts); Cavalcanti (excerpts); Al poco giorno
PERFORMER: Nathan Rubin (violin); Other Minds Ensemble, Arch Ensemble, Western Opera Theatre, Asko Ensemble, Villon Music Theatre, Conductus Ensemble/Robert Hughes
CATALOGUE NO: OM 1005-2 (distr. +1 415 934 8134; www.otherminds.org)
Of all the poets who’ve dabbled in music, Ezra Pound was the most ambitious: he composed two operas, numerous song settings and chamber pieces. On the evidence of this disc, his knowledge of music was sketchy, his feeling for instrumental timbres uncertain, and he avoided harmony almost altogether. But Pound was unembarrassed by these weaknesses, because what he was searching for was a kind of heightened declamation inspired by the troubadours. The excerpts from Testament, based on the lusty poetry of Villon, do have a sort of out-of-focus medieval flavour.
The performances have a strange intensity, like a cross between Carmina burana and Diamanda Galas. These are the best things on the disc because they don’t need a composer’s craft. In Pound’s second opera Cavalcanti, inspired by neo-classical Stravinsky, his lack of skill becomes more of a liability. Yet even here there are some striking inventions. The recordings have been culled from different sources, some involving amateurs, and they stretch over a 30-year period, so the quality is very variable. That, combined with the sheer oddity of the music, means that this isn’t a CD you’d want to hear every day. But despite the awkwardness, there’s a passion in this music which is compelling. Ivan Hewett