Brian Field: Vocal Works (Navona Records) presents six pieces by the American composer (b. 1967). The works cover a wide range of subjects, styles, and musical approaches. Field’s versatility is both striking and impressive. The disc opens with By and By, a setting for a cappella chorus of a devotional text by Charles Albert Tindley. Field creates tonal, uplifting music in the gospel tradition. The same is true for the penultimate work on the disc, Let the Light Shine on Me, in that case, featuring a poem by the composer.
By contrast, Tres Canciones de Amor, for tenor and orchestra, explores a far more expressionistic world. The work proceeds both in subject and music, as a Tristan und Isolde in miniature. The texts are a trio of poems by Pablo Neruda; “Plena mujer, manzana carnal” (Full woman, flesh-apple), “Tengo hambre de tu boca” (I crave your mouth), and “Cuando yo muero” (When I die). For the first two poems, expressions of erotic obsession, Field stretches tonality to and beyond its limits, but always in a soaring, lyrical manner. The expressive vocal line, colorful orchestration, and infusion of Latin melody and rhythms intoxicate. When I say that the music evokes the image of Alban Berg in South America, I mean this in the most complementary way. In the final song, the narrator’s vision of his death as the apotheosis of his love, inspires an ecstatic outpouring of melody, now with a tonal orientation.
Let’s Build a Wall!, for tenor and chamber ensemble, is subtitled “An American Satire”. The satire is both on Donald Trump’s promise that America would build a wall on its Southern border (with Mexico picking up the tab), and on the ecstatic reaction to this proposal by his followers. The composer provides the text, which he sets in the fashion of a patriotic Broadway show tune. It’s very much in the style of one of Randy Rainbow’s parodies, although here, of course, Field provides the original music. Sephardic Lullaby, for soprano and orchestra, is appropriately melodic and serene. The concluding work, Chimneys, sonnets-realities, is a setting of six E.E. Cummings poems from the collection Tulips and Chimneys. The selected poems express a stark view of the human condition, one devoid of romanticism. In his setting for baritone and piano, Field returns to his expressionist voice, but now the music is drained of warmth and vigor. From time to time, the singer engages in spoken word and sprechstimme effects. It’s a powerful work, haunting in its cumulative impact.
Throughout this recording, I was impressed by how apt Field’s diverse musical approaches are for the various poems and his illumination of the words within. The performances are convincing as well. Such works as By and By, Let the Light Shine on Me, and in particular, Let’s Build a Wall! demand performers who are comfortable with an American idiom. Kudos to the Budapest Chorus (in the first two mentioned works) and tenor Zoli Mujahid (Let’s Build a Wall!) for their convincing and heartfelt renditions. But all of the artists handle their responsibilities admirably. The recorded sound is fine throughout. The recording of Chimneys, sonnets-realities, which took place in New London, CT, on April 29, 1990, seems to be of a live performance. The CD contains a bio of the composer. Complete texts and translation are accessible from the Navona website. A collection of diverse, accomplished, and engaging vocal works, all well performed.
Composer’s website: www.brianfield.com