Lorelei Ensemble – James Kallembach: Antigone: The Writings of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Movement
The subtitle of James Kallembach’s choral suite Antigone, “The Writings of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Movement,” heralds a world of inquiry combining ancient myth with 20th-century mythologizing. To this challenge the composer applies an artistic sensibility that mixes primitive colors into a palette of sometimes operatic melody and harmony.
In Sophocles’ Antigone the title character defies authority by burying her dead brother, who had opposed their uncle Creon’s seizure of the throne. Kallembach perceived a parallel between Antigone’s execution and that of World War II resistance hero Sophie Scholl. With her brother Hans, Scholl worked with the White Rose Movement against the Nazi regime from within. When caught she refused to name her co-conspirators, and was executed in 1942.
(The Scholls and the White Rose movement have been the subject of numerous books; a picture book about Sophie comes out this summer, in fact. She was memorably depicted in the 2005 film Sophie Scholl: Die letzten Tage (The Final Days).)
Commissioned by the Lorelei Ensemble, Kallembach scored passages from Sophocles and from Scholl’s writings to create Antigone, his suite for women’s voices and cello quartet. The ensemble premiered it in 2017 and New Focus Recordings has just released a stellar studio recording of this starkly relevant music.
Through 14 tracks occupying a mere 36-plus minutes, the composer sets excerpts from both sources, building a stark, theatrical narrative. With a modernist harmonic sense, but reflecting ancient liturgical music too, the piece feels timeless. Touching and at times sublime, it coaxes its twin stories into a mournful bloom. I recommend listening to it cold first, then re-listening while following along with the text.
Antigone is available now for streaming and download.
Plínio Fernandes – Saudade
Brazilian guitarist Plínio Fernandes’ major label debut Saudade introduces a wider audience to an exceptionally talented musician who plays with impeccable technique and an infectiously joyful spirit. Out now on Decca Gold, it features several fine arrangements by, and one composition by, the inimitable Sérgio Assad. The Jobim tunes among these include an energetic “Samba Do Avião,” one of the album’s highlights, and an intricately flowing version of the “Girl from Ipanema” shows you still can enjoy this ubiquitous number.
Fernandes’ warm tone and clarity of articulation stand out in the virtuosic passages but perhaps even more so in the slower selections, like the “Valseana” from Assad’s Aquarelle. Assad’s arrangement of the melodic “Aquarela do Brasil” by Ary Barroso is a slippery gem in Fernandes’ sure hands and another album highlight.
Fernandes duets with cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason on the album’s smooth initial dive into the Heitor Villa-Lobos canon. The disc closes with guest violinist Braimah Kanneh-Mason on Assad’s gentle “Menino.”
There’s a slightly weird, almost tongue-in-cheek arrangement of a Milton Nascimento number. It leads into Villa-Lobos’ popular 5 Preludes (W419), which form the album’s centerpiece. Here Fernandes reveals both his virtuosic and his lyrical talents, finding the emotion in the music without indulging in sentimentality. The pensive A minor Prelude is an especially fine example.
Maria Rita contributes subtle, quivery vocals to the sweet “O Mundo É Um Moinho,” which also features exquisitely sensitive guitar work from Fernandes.
A couple of more uptempo pieces would have given the album more balance, but it’s nonetheless a beautiful listen through and through. Saudade is out now.