<< -- 2 -- Carson P Cooman CHARACTERISTICALLY ECLECTIC
Balada's musical language for the work is characteristically eclectic. Many diverse musical elements combine to create the whole -- from wild aleatoric passages, to minimalist mechanical sections, to luminously tranquil tonal meditations, to pitch-less spoken declamations, to extended 'sounds of destruction' on the electronic tape. In the hands of a lesser composer, this diversity could be a total disaster, but dealing with diverse musical materials and ideas is perhaps Balada's greatest musical strength.
Regardless of whether one agrees or not with the author's rather bleak view of the world and death, the piece is a magnificent musical achievement. Although the work is over 40 minutes long, it feels substantially shorter -- with the musical interest never abating. The obscure and collage nature of the text often makes the messages difficult to understand, however -- and there is some philosophical inconsistency in that the work seems to be both implying that death is inevitable and that there must be no God, but yet at the same time 'railing out' to somebody (the booklet notes even mention God). In spite of this fact, the music is the feature which will be the primary attraction and contains some of Balada's finest work.
The second work on the CD is much more recent, dating from 2003 and commissioned by the performing forces on this disc. The somewhat unfortunately titled Ebony Fantasies is a four movement cantata based on African-American spirituals. The work is not a set of 'arrangements' of spirituals, but rather a piece which uses the spirituals as source material for personal musical transformation.
As scholars of African-American music have pointed out, the texts and ideas of spirituals were often every bit as much connected to the earthly plight of African-American slaves as they were to the spiritual matters explicitly describe in the text. Balada's work, wisely, does not attempt to explore aspects of the original African-American context. Rather, he takes both the affect and religious text of each spiritual to create the mood of each movement. Balada has stated that he does, however, feel a kinship to the emotional spirit behind each of these pieces -- and, as such, he does tap into the deep level of each one's music in a powerful way.
Copyright © 3 November 2005
Carson P Cooman, Pittsburgh USA