Saturday, February 7, 2015

A different kind of clarinet concerto reaches for the sublime in A Far Cry's 'Dreams & Prayers'

A Far Cry is the oddly named string chamber orchestra with a high degree of polish and sense of adventure to it that will appeal to many.  Based since its 2007 founding in Boston, it's now up for a classical Grammy Award for "Dreams & Prayers" (Crier Records).

A Far Cry seeks a niche all its own in the chamber-orchestra gallery.
The 20 musicians include International Violin Competition of Indianapolis' silver medalist Tessa Lark and other fine string players of her generation.

Regardless of whether "Dreams & Prayers" gets the award for best chamber music/small ensemble performance, those curious about or already familiar with the group can catch it at the Palladium on March 27, when it will appear with pianists Leon Fleisher and Katherine Jacobson. The program includes the piano duo performing Mozart with the orchestra.

Curator and Crier member Miki-Sophia Cloud says that the new disc explores "music as a passageway between the physical and the divine as expressed over the mystical branches of three faith traditions and 1,000 years of history."

The centerpiece of this project is Osvaldo Golijov's "Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind." The dreaming, praying man was a rabbi named Isaac who lived in Provence in the 13th century. Golijov has drawn upon the intensity of the klezmer clarinet tradition for this five-part suite. The interaction between clarinetist David Krakauer, an expert in this style, carries the listener's attention forward. I find the result a little wearying, most likely because a mystical experience, even when put in musical terms, cannot easily be shared on the level of significance at which it happened.

I found the music for string orchestra alone more engaging. To end the disc with the "Heiliger Dankgesang" from Beethoven's String Quartet in A minor, op. 132, was a powerful inspiration.  This enthralling movement gains much from being presented by an enlarged ensemble.

The other new work stems from Muslim spirituality — Mehmet Ali Sahlikol's "Vecd," a Turkish word referring to a state of rapture or ecstasy.  The work establishes well the spiritually centered mood early on before accelerating with patience and intensity so as to approximate the conditions favorable to the formal meditative movements of the Sufi whirling dervishes.

Opening the program is a piece by the 11th-century Benedictine nun Hildegard von Bingen, arranged by A Far Cry.  Her music has been heard more through recordings than any other composer of the early Middle Ages. "O ignis spirus paracliti" has the purity of intonation and the lofty phrasing that makes this vocal music work in a setting for string instruments.  It amounts to a beautiful curtain-raiser to the spiritually wide-ranging program offered on "Dreams & Prayers."