THE PLANETS / HARRISON: Jahla in the Form of a Ductia to Pleasure Leopold Stokowski on his 90th Birthday. Avalokiteshvara. Music for Bill and Me (arr. Boniolo-Facchin). Beverly’s Troubadour. Serenade for Frank Wigglesworth (arr. Boniolo-Facchin). Sonata in Ishtarum (arr. Boniolo-Facchin). Serenade for Guitar & Optional Percussion (arr. Boniolo-Facchin). FACCHIN: The Planets / Avalokite Duo: Patrizia Boniolo, harp; Guido Facchin, perc / Stradivarius STR 37123
Another disc of something new under the sun: a series of pieces by Lou Harrison, four of which are arranged here for harp and percussion, and a new suite titled The Planets written by the Avalokite Duo’s percussion player, Guido Facchin. And the performances of this duo are not drippy and full of Romantic overtones, but rather crisply and excitingly played. Yep, this is something different all right!
Unfortunately, the first track on this CD, Harrison’s Jahla in the Form of a Ductia to Pleasure Leopold Stokowski on his 90th Birthday, is not complete in either the download provided me or on the Naxos Music Library for free streaming. It stops at 57 seconds, whereas it’s supposed to go on for 1:56, twice as long. Perhaps they felt that since Stokowski is dead he only needed half-a-pleasure.
Happily, all of the other tracks are complete and are delightful. For the most part, Facchin’s percussion consists of things like finger cymbals, chimes and Oriental instruments that simulate the sound of sand rolling over a grate. These complement the harp very well, and it is the interesting structure of the music that keeps it from sounding New-Age-ish, despite the fact that several of these Harrison pieces have a sort of Indian-music sound about them. Oddly enough, it is the Serenade for Frank Wiglesworth that sounds the most like something Rabih Abou-Khalil might play—very “Silk Road”-like in its fast pace with almost Moroccan-sounding percussion.
Interestingly, Facchin’s own Planets suite sounds a little less Middle Eastern and more like something from Eastern Europe in rhythm and form. Here, Facchin plays a great deal of drums, something he shied away from in the Lou Harrison pieces. To a certain extent, I felt that the music herein was less a tonal description of the various planets (like Holst’s famous orchestral suite) and more of an impression of what the planets suggested to him. This is indicated to me by the fact that most of the titles come from the Greek form of the gods’ names after which the planets are named, to wit, Krònos instead of Saturn, Zeus instead of Jupiter, Áres instead of Mars, Afrodité instead of Venus, Poseidon instead of Neptune, and here including our own Earth as Gaia (the final piece in the suite). It is, however, colorful and imaginative music, mostly tonal or at least modal which makes it accessible to average listeners.
A real surprise in Afrodité is the appearance of a harmonica, perhaps the last instrument in the world one would expect to introduce the goddess of love (unless Venus was in a folk music band), but the music is a waltz with a nice, simple melody. Venus as a cowgirl, perhaps. But Hermés (Mercury) is even stranger, an odd, broken bitonal melody with alternating finger cymbals and thumping timpani behind the harp. Midway through, the tempo increases and it becomes sort of a broken-sounding belly dance. Curiouser and curiouser! Ouranós (Uranus) opens with artificial wind sounds and an air-raid siren while the harp plays an atonal tune while Poseidon sports a pounding, American Indian-type rhythm in the drums while the harp just plays little rhythmic figures in the foreground. Ploutón (Pluto) opens with an even more dissonant motif reminiscent of Marius Constant’s Twilight Zone theme. Gaia (Earth) opens with an asymmetrical drum rhythm into which the harp fits its strange bitonal theme. The quick opening tempo later relaxes and the harp plays a much more melodic and tonal theme in front of cymbal washes and bass drum beats before the tempo increases again and bitonality returns. Eventually everything slows down and both harp and chimes (and harmonica!) play Handel’s aria “Lascia ch’io pianga” before ramping up the tempo and reintroducing the bitonality. A strange track indeed.
It may not be the greatest music in the world, but Facchin’s The Planets is indeed interesting music, and the Harrison pieces are also quite good in and of themselves.
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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