Dawn Upshaw (soprano)
The Andalucian Dogs [Golijov]
Tara OConnor (flute), Todd Palmer (clarinet), Ljova (viola), Eric Friedlander (cello), Bridget Kibbey (harp), Gordon Gottlieb & Eric Poland (percussion)
Recorded in August 2004 at Hit Factory, New York
Reviewed by: Michael Quinn
Reviewed: January 2006
CD No: DG 477 5414
Duration: 62 minutes
“Ayre” (pronounced ‘eye-rah’) is Osvaldo Golijov’s remarkable homage to the music of Luciano Berio and, 40 years on, specifically to that composer’s 1964 set of “Folk Songs”, written for, dedicated to and subsequently defined by Cathy Berberian. It is a simply extraordinary work, fizzing, fierce and often voluptuous, offering an incredible collision of dazzling sounds and dizzying colours. Indeed, there is much in its bold, bright effervescent blend of musical references from Golijov’s own background – a modern mongrel mix of Jewish, Arabic and Christian traditions – that will startle and challenge. And delight and thrill.
In many respects it goes far beyond Berio in sweep and intoxicating execution (how provincial his earlier and similar experimentation suddenly seems by comparison). ‘Fusion’ doesn’t even come near as a description: this is musical fission, Golijov’s eclectic isotopes creating a vivid new world defined by, the composer says, “no real sense of ‘form’ … but rather lots of detours and discoveries”. Golijov’s muse and guide here is Dawn Upshaw. A seasoned stage animal, Upshaw curbs her reflex tendency towards over-excitement to deliver a disciplined, deeply considered and multifaceted reading – ranging from the demented to the sensuous, from heart-stopping intensity to heady intoxication – of a journey that is more vertiginous helter-skelter than mere roller-coaster.
If that, and some knowledge of the make-up of Golijov’s driving delirium of a chamber ensemble (complete with “21st Century folk instrument”, the laptop) makes “Ayre” sound somewhat relentless and daunting, that’s because it is. But it also boasts moments of beautiful, at times even blissful repose where Upshaw’s sublime double cream-rich soprano offers its own poignant balm. In her willingness to push and provoke, Upshaw deliberately resurrects memories of Cathy Berberian – what would that astonishing singer have made of this astonishing music?
Perhaps it also explains her much more pared-back, more deeply-felt take on the Berio songs (compared to Berberian’s bucolic esprit), which here serve almost as a reflective afterthought, a tantalising key sculpted out of simplicity and directness with which to unlock Golijov’s magnificently embellished, brilliantly recorded, edifice. What sets “Ayre” out as a modern marvel is the sheer invention of the piece and the deft way – often jaw-droppingly so – in which Golijov integrates the endless variety and vitality of the whole. As an exercise in unabashed virtuosity it has few modern equals.
In short, an essential purchase: an exhilarating snapshot of the here and now that is also a wholly invigorating pointer towards a crucial new direction, if it has the courage and the conviction, for contemporary music.