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Louis Karchin (b.1951): 'To the Sun & Stars', songs with piano & with orchestra / Thomas Meglioranza, baritone; Mary Macenzie, soprano; Sharon Harms, soprano

Notes & Reviews:

This album presents vocal works by New York's Louis Karchin. Of the disc, critic Robert Carl writes: "Karchin is a quintessentially American composer. When one listens to the bold opening gestures of such works as American Visions and Gods of Winter, one hears a spirit that loves space, great open sounds and the drama of contrasts between large and small, vast and intimate. This is a spirit unafraid to combine clear and simple sounds evocative of the past with those that emerge from contemporary complexity." The superb American baritone, Thomas Meglioranza leads a cast of singers, ensembles and orchestra, conducted by the composer.

American Record Guide, September/October 2015
The subject matter is grand, with titles like To the Sun, To the Stars, and my favorite, `Who Are You, Grand Canyon?' Karchin is a co-founder of the Orchestra of the League of Composers and an accomplished conductor in addition to composing for the last several decades. Karchin is clearly a skilled composer. The texts are likewise oriented, with passages like "all the wrinkles of mankind gathered together by eternity" (from `Who Are You, Grand Canyon?').


Worth the effort
I had to listen to this collection of Louis Karchin's vocal music several times before I really felt I understand what was going on and could then evaluate it fairly. That's a shortcoming on my part, but I will say that the exercise was not without reward.

For the most part, Karchin sets his texts in a very declamatory style. The melodies tend to skip around quite a bit. My impression is that Karchin wants to avoid any hint of traditional melody to keep the listener focused on the words and their message.

There are plenty of academic composers who do the same thing, but what sets Karchin's music apart is the imaginative ways he uses the instruments that accompany the voices.

Karchin has a talent for combining instruments in unusual -- but not outre -- ways to create a sense of otherworldliness. It's most effective in his works for voice and chamber ensemble (like A Way Separate and the gods of Winter). But it's part of what makes American visions work so well.

American Visions for baritone and orchestra, is the most ambitious work on the album. It's a 25-minute paean to the Grand Canyon that also contemplates on the nature and function of this most American natural wonder. Karchin's orchestration expresses the expansiveness of the canyon, while also underlining the poet's ambivalence about it. Baritone Thomas Megiloranze sings in a heroic fashion, his intensity never flagging throughout the long work.

Personally, I found Karchin's music to be an acquired taste. But it's one I'm glad to have developed.
Submitted on 10/23/14 by RGraves321 
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