GOLIJOV: Ayre; BERIO: Folk Songs. Dawn Upshaw, s; Andalucian Dogs; Ensemble. DG B0004782. 62 minutes.
First, up front: Dawn Upshaw is a force of nature. Her performances on both Osvaldo Golijov's Ayre (2004) and Luciano Berio's Folk Songs (1964) are nothing short of spectacular. Her voice is warm and rich, her phrasing expressive, and she has a strong sense of style that comes into play in both of these pieces.
Ayre is a cycle of recreations/arrangements of traditional songs from Arab, Jewish, and Christian cultures. Golijov weaves the differences between the cultures in a form of counterpoint, where slight changes is harmony or melody shift cultural gears. The result is an amalgamation that Alex Ross calls "a new beast, of bastard parentage and glorious plumage" that should appeal to pop and concert music fans alike. To my ears, the piece is a little long at 40 minutes, but it works very well if I listen to it a song or two at a time. Some of the rapid sections sound a little like Tears of Joy era Don Ellis, without the metric complexities. Ayre is a worthy composition; it makes me want to hear more Golijov and to revisit his Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, which I reviewed in my days as a style warrior at ARG.
Berio's Folk Songs are also recreations/arrangements (Golijov wrote Ayre as a companion piece). Berio's work is subtle and spare, and never gets in the way of the melodies or the texts. Again, Ms. Upshaw gives a very fine performance, one that does honor to Berio and to the legendary Cathy Berberian, for whom they were written.
Alex mentions the excellent sound on this disc. It has an immediacy that is unusual in concert music performances. I hope we hear more like it in the furure.
Finally, the notes (by Ara Guzelimian) are excellent--no tedious lists of commissioning bodies and performance organizations. The biographical details given are only those that have some resonance to the art at hand. Otherwise, they do what notes should, in my opinion, do. They provide several entry points into the music.