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February 2011

Transatlantic Tales – IAWM(International Alliance of Women in Music), Journal Volume 17, No.2, 2011, by Julie Cross

Faye-Ellen Silverman:
Transatlantic Tales
Performers: Volkmar Zimmermann, Mikkel Anderson, Kristian Gantriis, Per Dybro Sørensen (guitarists); Malene Bichel and Sara Fiil (sopranos); Maria Sook Garmark (clarinetist); Ninnie Isaksson (violist); Jan Lund (tenor). Troy 1250, Albany Records (2011). Bonus video (playable on QuickTime)
Faye-Ellen Silverman’s new CD is a celebration of her decades-long relationship with the guitar. The disc includes two pieces commissioned by guitarist Volkmar Zimmermann and the Corona Guitar Kvartet plus other works featuring the guitar as a solo or accompanying instrument. Silverman lists Zimmermann as her main collaborator, and this recording had its beginnings when the two dined together and discussed future compositions for the guitar. The title of disc, Transatlantic Tales, is symbolic of their transatlantic musical friendship. The CD begins with Zimmermann performing Processional (1996), a solo work that uses characteristic guitar techniques and is structured so that chordal sections alternate with non-chordal or contrapuntal sections. Some sections feature rhythmic patterns such as repeated-notes, triplets, and dotted rhythms. The work creates a vision of a parade, which, as it comes into view, seems to get faster and then recedes at the end as the procession moves away to music that is related to the opening. This is a beautiful piece that incorporates a full spectrum of dynamics. In Shadow, a cycle consisting of three songs and two interludes, was composed in 1972 after, and in response to, the death of Silverman’s boyfriend. It is scored for clarinet, guitar, and soprano—the same instrumentation as in Webern’s Three Songs, op.18—and the texts are by Emily Dickinson.
“Elysium,” the first song, is a duet that contrasts the soprano and the clarinet parts and expresses the pathos one feels while waiting for the medical diagnosis of someone dear. “Out of the Morning” is based on Dickinson’s poem “Will there really be a morning?” and depicts the difficulty of moving on with life after finding out that a beloved has received a terminal diagnosis. The well-known children’s song, “Skip to my Lou,” is incorporated to show that while one is suffering, life for others goes on and children continue to play. “In Shadow,” the third song, is a soprano-guitar duet that accurately matches music and text through the stages of grief, from anger to acceptance, with tempi and dynamics that mirror the emotions. This work is balanced, poignantly set, and deeply heartfelt. The performers are flawless and delicate in their approach. Malene Bichel’s fine soprano voice is full of subtle nuance, as are the instrumental performances of her partners: clarinetist Maria Sook Garmark and guitarist Mikkel Andersen.
Wilde’s World (2000) for tenor, viola, and guitar, commemorates the 100th anniversary of Oscar Wilde’s death, and is a setting of Wilde’s poem “Roses and Rue”. Silverman uses melismas and ornaments to depict the cultural ambience of late nineteenth-century art and music. The frequent use of melismas in the tenor part remind one of Britten’s operatic arias. The work is beautifully performed by Jan Lund, violist Ninnie Isaksson, and guitarist Kristian Gantriis. The trio features three very distinct and independent but supportive lines, yet with tone and color they appear to perform as one entity. The piece is generally through-composed with musical repetition mirroring Wilde’s word repetition. Both the text and music touchingly depict a failed relationship and its accompanying sadness. Silverman composed Danish Delights
in 2009 for Zimmerman and his duo partner, soprano Sara Fiil. This exquisite cycle ties together the poetry of Sara Teasdale, ancient Greek poet Corinna, and Renaissance poet Thomas Campion. Teasdale’s “Pierrot in his Garden” is the text for the first song. Zimmerman is represented by Pierrot, and the beautiful guitar part weaves around the vocal line. The second movement is an interlude in which the soprano gently sings (calls) Pierrot’s name. “Corinna’s Tale” begins with a soprano narration “…here is my story in song.” This is followed by a four-line poem in which Corinna declares Terpsichore to be her muse. When she sings the poem she is unaccompanied, and when she sings without words, in an entrancing step-wise melodic line, the guitar shadows her exactly. “Terpsichore Dances,” for solo guitar, captures the flavor of a Renaissance dance. The final movement, Campion’s “Corinna and her Lute,” begins in an unusual manner with a tuning of the guitar assisted by the voice. The song introduces thematic material from the previous movements
and ends gently. The entire set is imaginative and engaging to both the ear and the heart from start to finish!
Silverman was inspired by the sound of crickets, and their chirping serves as the basis of her 3 Guitars (1980). She uses chords built from seconds and sevenths, harmonics, and bowing the guitar strings to create special sonic effects. The work is carefully structured in an arch form that becomes louder and higher in the introduction and lower and softer at the end. The piece is imaginative as well as experimental. This recording concludes with the energetic Pregnant Pauses (2005). Silverman wrote this piece to explore the possibility of allowing her music to “breathe” more, and she explores the concept of incorporating pauses filled with anticipation and expectancy. She also wished to highlight the talents of the Corona Guitar Kvartet, for whom she wrote the piece. The first movement opens with an energetic, flamencostyle
repeated chord. Following this, a melody on the notes E-F-A-F-E is introduced, and it serves as a theme for all the movements. The second movement focuses on individual guitar melodies, with alternating independence of line and polyphony. In the final movement, the theme is altered and transposed, and melodic material and tempi from previous movements return. The QuickTime bonus video features images of mundane life in the morning such as a man reading his newspaper. The accompaniment is Processional, the first piece on the CD. This stop-motion animation sequence shows micro-processions: those of coffee in a cup or saucer, sugar cubes in and out of the coffee, fruit moving around a table as if heading toward a destination, etc. The film was produced in Berlin in 2010 by Nike Arnold and Clara Bausch. Silverman’s liner notes are wonderfully detailed, with an explanation of her approach in addition to the back-stories behind each piece. Complete song texts are included, along with a brief biography of each performer. Silverman organizes her notes chronologically according to order of composition, while the performance order itself is based more on optimum sound sequence. Each work is elegantly performed, and each piece on the disc is a compositional gem.
Julie Cross is IAWM Treasurer and Associate Professor of Music at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. A frequent performer of the works of women composers, she recently sang the music of Giulia Recli at the IAWM Congress in Flagstaff.