Classical CD Reviews

CURT CACIOPPO: ‘Laws of the Pipe’ = Wolf; Kinaaldá; Scenes from Indian Country – Janice Fiore, sop./David Gelber, cello/Curt Cacioppo, piano/Borromeo String Q./The Ch. Orch. of Bryn Mawr/Heidi Jacob – Navona Records

Not just another album on “Indian themes.”

Published on December 13, 2012

CURT CACIOPPO: ‘Laws of the Pipe’ = Wolf; Kinaaldá; Scenes from Indian Country – Janice Fiore, sop./David Gelber, cello/Curt Cacioppo, piano/Borromeo String Q./The Ch. Orch. of Bryn Mawr/Heidi Jacob – Navona Records

CURT CACIOPPO: ‘Laws of the Pipe’ = Wolf; Kinaaldá; Scenes from Indian Country – Janice Fiore, sop./David Gelber, cello/Curt Cacioppo, piano/Borromeo String Quartet/The Ch. Orch. of Bryn Mawr/Heidi Jacob – Navona Records NV5889 (Distr. by Naxos), 59:56 ****:

Native American culture and music based on indigenous music, folk lore, tribal traditions and so forth has fascinated many composers. Certainly, there has been a plethora of Native American artists who have produced folk music and CDs of flute playing and so forth. As for “classical” treatment of “Indian” themes, there have been ample works of this type as well (some of the better of which include the Mark Grey Enemy Slayer oratorio or the Michael Kamen New Moon in the Old Moon’s Arms).

Curt Cacioppo’s work defies all stereotype and sounds – frankly – like much other contemporary music but is well crafted and interesting. These works just happen to have been written around themes and concepts associated with the first Americans.  Cacioppo has an impressive list of works to his creative credit and his music has been presented in prominent venues around the globe, from Carnegie Hall in New York to Segerstrom Concert Hall in Orange County, California as well as many venues worldwide. Cacioppo studied at Harvard University with Leon Kirchner, Earl Kim and Ivan Tcherepnin. He is presently on the faculty of Haverford College, where he is Ruth Marshall Magill Professor of Music.  Curt Cacioppo is also a pianist of note, as the opening work, Wolf, shows.

The work, Wolf, in fact, presents a very strong opening to the album. Based on a poem by Peter Blue Cloud, this is a very dramatic work that focuses on the wolf folklore and its role in Mohawk tradition. The performances here are strong in all cases; soprano Janice Fiore, cellist David Gelber and the composer on piano all having plenty to do. The work is tonal but urgent in places and ends quite dramatically.

I was also impressed with the string quartet, Kinaaldá (The Rite of Changing Woman). This very compelling multi-movement work depicts in a form of tone poem the ceremony celebrating maturity of girls among the Navajo which is held generally on the fourth night after the first evidence of the maiden’s entrance into womanhood. There are elaborate dressing and bathing rituals and very specific dietary aspects to the ceremony. The ceremony proper consists of basically a series of songs that find their way into Cacioppo’s quartet as a set of theme and variations around the four seasons (in Navajo, the “four directions” which are held significant and sacred.) This is a very interesting work and bears up well as a strong addition to the modern string quartet repertoire even without the thematic symbolism.

The “invocation” trilogy, Scenes from Indian Country, leaves a similar strong impression. In fact, the music and tone of this very nice three-part tone poem was better, in my view, than what the title portends. Certainly, there are ceremonial aspects to the percussion scoring and some lovely solo flute that evokes – but does not quote or mimic – tradition aboriginal wooden flute playing. There is a somewhat ominous tone to the opening “Invocation and Dance of the Mountain Gods” and a very emotional aspect to the closing “Crying for Justice” while the central “Raven Lance” is a somber and elegiac in a way. I thought this work was strong and compelling.

All of Cacioppo’s music – from what this disc reveals – has a dramatic feel and a contemporary approach to harmony and orchestration but also bears a style that most listeners would find quite appealing. I did not know anything about Curt Cacioppo or his music when entering into this CD. I confess that the look and title of this album made me think – as it may others – that this would be “yet another” collection of music about or inspired by Native American themes and might be beset with native flutes, pattern drumming and predictable modes. It is none of these things and is much better than that. I am curious to hear more of Cacioppo’s music on different subjects or works that are more “absolute music” because the introduction to this composer is promising.

—Daniel Coombs




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