Rorem: More Than a Day; Water Music; From an Unknown Past

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WORKS: More Than a Day; Water Music; From an Unknown Past
PERFORMER: Brian Asawa (countertenor), Margaret Batjer (violin), Gary Gray (clarinet); Los Angeles CO/Jeffrey Kahane
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 63512 2
The conventional view of the countertenor voice is that it is cool, disembodied, sexless. This stereotype is challenged by the Japanese-American singer Brian Asawa, whose voice is notably even, coloured by well-controlled vibrato, and not lacking in warmth. And the assumptions, conscious or unconscious, on which the stereotype may rest are called into question by the main work on this disc, a setting of homoerotic verses (if not overtly so) by Jack Larson. Certainly More Than a Day is nothing if not expressive, confirming the pre-eminence of the veteran American Ned Rorem among current practitioners of the art of setting English words to memorable melodic lines. However, From an Unknown Past conforms to another stereotype, the association of the countertenor voice with the English Renaissance, being a sequence of neat miniature settings of texts from that period. Both cycles also reveal Rorem’s talent for orchestration – as does Water Music, a concerto grosso in variation form with stand-out parts for violin and clarinet but effective solo writing all round. Fine playing by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, under the pianist-conductor Jeffrey Kahane, prompts regret that more of Rorem’s little-known orchestral music was not added to boost the ungenerous playing time. Anthony Burton