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Feelings and Dreams: Music by Philip Lasser and Vivian Fung

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Colors of Feelings: Music of Philip Lasser. Susanna Phillips, Elizabeth Futral, sopranos; Margo Garrett, piano; Michael York, narrator. (Delos DE3428)

Philip Lasser: Colors of Feelings
Vivian Fung: Dreamscapes

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Poems by Wynelle Ann Carson (1959-1996) were the inspiration for Colors of Feelings, a moving 2009 song cycle by faculty member Philip Lasser (D.M.A. ’94, composition). Lasser set the texts in a tonal palette with many dramatic intervallic leaps, and it’s thrilling to hear the gorgeous top range of soprano Susanna Phillips (B.M. ’03, M.M. ’03, voice), speak—or sing—for itself. Faculty member Margo Garrett is the keenly attentive pianist and her elegant simplicity is a fine complement to Phillips’s soaring instrument.

Elizabeth Futral joins Garrett for Les Visages de l’Amour (1998), a sweeping set with texts by French poets as diverse as Paul Verlaine, Louise de Vilmorin, and Gérard de Nerval. Lasser, using the aliases Michel d’Arencon and Paul Laurent, also wrote some of the texts. (The liner notes, by Lindsay Koob, describe the composer as a “closet poet.”) Futral’s creamy soprano is the ideal messenger for the composer’s long lines.

Futral and Phillips join forces for Nicolette et Aucassin (2008), which Garrett commissioned, and actor Michael York adds his weathered voice as narrator to illuminate an obscure medieval French love story by an anonymous author. Aucassin is a nobleman and Nicolette is of less auspicious heritage; they fall in love, much to the distress of their parents (Aucassin’s father puts him in prison) but unlike Romeo and Juliet, the tale ends magically. York’s substantial role holds the piece together, illuminating the ancient story as the two voices intertwine and gently articulate the details.

The recording, immaculately engineered by Adam Abeshouse, owes its clarity in part to the venue, the popular SUNY Purchase Recital Hall. In recent years, the engineer’s work at Purchase has set a very high bar.

Vivian Fung: Dreamscapes. Kristin Lee, violin; Conor Hanick, piano; Metropolis Ensemble, Andrew Cyr, conductor. (Naxos 8.573009)

Balinese gamelan is the mesmerizing ingredient in three works by Vivian Fung (B.M. ’96, M.M. ’97, D.M.A. ’02, composition). Born in Canada of Vietnamese parents, Fung masterfully combines Eastern influences with Western instruments in a way that would make, say, composer Lou Harrison nod in approval. Fung’s intriguing Violin Concerto (2010-11) combines propulsive rhythms and gentle Javanese melodies. The virtuoso playing is by violinist Kristin Lee (Pre-College ’04; B.M. ’08, M.M. ’10, violin) and the Metropolis Ensemble, led by Andrew Cyr.

Frank J. Oteri’s informative notes explain the eerie sound sources of “Koketan,” the first part of Glimpses (2006) for prepared piano. The pianist places binder clips, mini plastic hair clips, Scotch-taped Popsicle sticks, and a metal bar on some of the strings to alter the timbre of Fung’s glittering ostinatos. In the second movement, “Snow,” plastic clothespins and sticky paper create a subtle rattling effect. In the finale, “Chant,” a rosined strand of twine drawn across the strings makes an unearthly electronic-sounding hum. Piano doctoral candidate Conor Hanick plays the set with extraordinary confidence and color, adding a contemplative tone.

Hanick returns for Fung’s piano concerto Dreamscapes (2009), which begins with delicate passages plucked inside the instrument before the orchestra enters, eventually creating a violent gamelan hurricane, which intensifies in a series of majestic, detailed ostinatos, adding more and more detail. Later the wind players whisper into their instruments to form a ghostly syllabic cloud, and tap their instruments’ keys to create a faint clicking chorus. Near the end, the piano part settles into two elegantly simple contrapuntal lines that signal the conclusion. Fung’s restless rhythmic palette sometimes evokes the syncopations of jazz, or perhaps early John Adams, but the giddy results are entirely her own.

The two concertos were recorded at Tanglewood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall by Charlie Post and Tim Martyn with a “you-are-there” feeling. Glimpses was engineered at Oktaven Audio in Yonkers by Ryan Streber (B.M. ’01, M.M. ’03, composition), who did a handsome job capturing Fung’s unusual timbres.

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