Classical CD Reviews
LISA BIELAWA: “Chance Encounter” – Susan Narucki, sop./ The Knights Ens. – Orange Mt.
Published on March 23, 2011
LISA BIELAWA: “Chance Encounter” = Prologue and Opening; Topos Nostalgia; Transition: Nostalgia-Drama; Drama/Self-Pity; Transition: Drama-Nothing; Nothing; Transition: Nothing-Aimlessness; Aimlessness Song – Susan Narucki, soprano/ The Knights ensemble/ Lisa Bielawa, director – Orange Mountain Music (OMM 7004), 36:36 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***1/2:
I was immediately interested in this new and very unusual disc because of the connection of Orange Mountain Music to Philip Glass to Lisa Bielawa. I am most familiar with Bielawa’s work as a soprano with the Philip Glass ensemble from the early 1990s and beyond. I even had the good fortune to see her live with the PGE on two separate occasions. I have also come to know and expect that Glass and his OMM label does not produce or promote anything that is not high quality. This music is unusual but does not disappoint.
The “chance encounter” referred to in the title is the experience that Lisa and the singer for whom this was written, Susan Narucki, wandering, literally, in public spaces throughout the world and jotting down snippets of speech; random conversations everywhere. Therefore, the four major sections of the work are structured as four major sections of these random dialogues and monologues, mostly from lower Manhattan. Accordingly, “Topos Nostalgia” is an aria built on someone’s lonely recollections of what his/her street used to look like. “Drama/Self-Pity” is just what it sounds like as the singer laments “They used to give you a paper bag and an apple and that was the beginning of the end”. The “Nothing” section is quite about the speaker commenting that “nothing has happened, nothing will happen … You don’t know me.” Similarly, the “Aimlessness Song” is based on an amazingly disjointed rambling about where and when and why someone was supposed to be.
Lisa Bielawa has truly succeeded in creating a very unusual piece of music. The tone and timbre of the works runs from simple and soulful to something almost Schoenberg-like. The performances are strong. The opening cello solo by Eric Jacobsen is indeed quite lovely as are the solos during the “transitions” between sections, featuring clarinetist Ben Baron, violinist Colin Jacobsen and Lance Suzuki, flute. The whole Knights ensemble plays well with an obvious commitment to this music. Susan Narucki anchors the work with a very clear tone and an ability to bring the emotion to these very strange texts, sounding at rest one moment; distracted and nervous the next. “Chance Encounter” was intended to be performed in public spaces, like those where the conversations originated. I can imagine what an impact a performance like this might have, surrounded by probably more random musings.
Kudos to the whole Orange Mountain staff and sound engineer Adam Abeshouse in particular. What began as a label to record and distribute all of Philip Glass’s music, by Mr. Glass himself, has become one of the more exciting and better produced new music labels around. I also think that the music of Lisa Bielawa is worth exploring; in particular her Double Violin Concerto for a two violin soloists, one of whom must also sing while playing!
But in the meantime, this very interesting “chance encounter” with this particular Glass protégé is worth having!
— Daniel Coombs