Classical Music Review: New Releases

Lior Navok: Meditations Over Shore. The Spanish Songs. Monica Garcia-Albea, soprano; Minako Taguchi, bassoon, chamber orchestra conducted by the composer. V 5 - Quintet for Vibraphone and String Qt. Matthew Masie, vibraphone. The Sea of Sunset. Jennifer Ashe, soprano; Tucker Dulin, trombone; Michael Bullock, double bass; Lior Navok, piano. Remembrances of Jerusalem: Prelude and Variations for Guitar. William Riley, guitar. Meditations Over Shore. Sun Ae Ko, soprano; Jayne Flores, alto; Michael McCown, tenor; David Hawse, bass; Mike Turk, harmonica; Eliko Akahari, piano; Jessica Cooper and Timur Rubinshteyn, percussion; New England Conservatory Chorus and Chamber Singers, Tamara Brooks, conductor. NLP Records (60'32").

"Serious" music that connects with an audience is a heretical idea in some quarters. But this wasn't always so. Bach, after all, wrote music to be performed in church every Sunday, and Mozart wrote his piano concertos for his concerts in Vienna and competed like mad for subscribers to hear them. But that city's moderns -- Schoenberg  and his followers -- struggled to find an audience. And the fact that they mostly failed to has been chalked up to their higher virtue. In a relentlessly commercial world like ours, classical musicians can end up looking like priests guarding a dying faith (or religion). Israeli composer Lior Navok -- he was born in Tel Aviv in 1971 and lives in Boston -- is from a more open generation. He says his work is "for the common person that goes to hear classical music," and that " a composer should follow his heart, but there's an audinece out there." Though elaborately schooled in both Jerusalem and Boston, Navok's new self-produced CD -- it's available from Amazon and -- is the work of a serious artist who isn't averse to seducing the ear and touching the heart.

The Spanish Songs (1998) are the most seductive pieces here. Navok's setting of two Machado poems for soprano -- Monica Garcia-Albea, bassoon -- Minako Taguchi, and chamber orchestra, which he conducts -- echoes Debussy and especially Ravel in its shimmering, dusky textures, and its straightforward vocal line. Parts of the second song -- "Has My Heart Fallen Asleep?" recall the slow liquid colors in Takemitsu, who was famous for his filmscores for Kurosawa and Teshigahara especially. Novak leads a subtle, atmospheric performance.

V-5 Quintet for Vibraphone and String Quartet (1994) is similarly lush and just possibly Mediterranean. And being a kind of concerto it has that form's sense of drama and lyricism. The second movement scherzo is tense and driven, while the closing fifth is hymnlike and exquisitely calm. The metric/textural freedom here may come from the composer's experience as a jazz painist.  Quartet and vibist Matthew Masie give an alert, sophisticated performance.

Navok's The Sea of Sunset (1997) for soprano (Jennifer Ashe) and a small combo sets a poem of the same name by Emily Dickinson, and the 1997 title cut, for soloists, chorus and select instruments are less charming but nonetheless prove agreeable, especially with repeated listenings. Both also show a romantic attraction to the idea of eternity. Remembrances of Jerusalem (1995) for solo guitar -- William Riley -- is attractively melancholic, though variations aren't Navok's strong suit here. He's better with the open structures of the other pieces which seem more spontaneous than willed. Sound is warm, balanced and clear throughout.

-Michael McDonagh
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