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Classical Music Review

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The Life Before Us


Composers: Allan Crossman and John G. Bilotta
Label: Navona Records
RRP: £13.99
Release Date: 13 April 2018

The Life Before Us combines works from John G. Bilotta and Allan Crossman.

Bilotta’s cycle of Yeats Songs, performed by baritone Andrew R. White, highlights five of the poet’s shorter lyrics in predominantly bi-tonal or atonal settings. His collection of Renaissance Songs is based on the work of several Elizabethan poets, including John Donne and Thomas Lodge (whose poem Rosalynde was the source of Shakespeare’s As You Like It).

Bilotta draws on two American poets, Carl Sandburg and Edna St. Vincent Millay, for 'Lost' and 'Prayer to Persephone', two songs united by a single poetic theme and performed by soprano Cass Panuska accompanied by pianist Hadley McCarroll, who are also featured on 'The Hippocampus’ Monologue', the closing aria from the first act of Bilotta’s opera Rosetta’s Stone.

Allan Crossman’s ten songs include four inspired by the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca and an international array of others: from Ireland (James Joyce), Germany (Hermann Claudius and Ricarda Huch), Russia (Alexander Scriabin), and America (Louis Phillips), performed by mezzo-soprano Megan Stetson and bass Richard Mix, with the composer himself at the piano.

Crossman’s three-movement 'Sonata fLux', with pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi, include 'Moto Atlantico', 'Flight of the Firefly' and 'Rondo a Pollock' - inspired, as its title suggests, by Jackson Pollock’s ‘action painting’ technique.

I'm afraid that I didn't find much to enjoy on this album's 35 tracks (1 hr, 04 min, 50 sec). While I'm not a huge fan of Opera or modern "experimental" Classical music, I can find beauty and enjoyment out the majority of it, but this collection mixes together the worst elements, and throws in poetry for good measure.

On more than a few occasions I was left wondering if the singers and the musicians were actually in the same room at the time of recording as they had a habit of clashing. While I'm well aware that a lot of this is playing with both the form and convention, in the end it just became too distracting and irritating.

There's no argument that the musicians and singers are all first rate performers... and this would be more evident if the material had a better structure to it. Personally, I found it painful to listen to. But if you like self indulgent nonsense you'll be in heaven.


Darren Rea

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