American Record Guide
Allen Gimbel
November 1, 2009

Cristina Zavalloni is a mezzo with backgrounds in both jazz and classical music, whose work is particularly beloved of Louis Andriessen. She is the main protagonist for three of the four works here.

Both La Passione (2002) and A Trolley Ride to America and Back (1998) are settings of surreal, symbolist texts by Italian poet Dino Campana, who spent considerable time as a mental patient in the World War I years. La Passione is a substantial cycle in 50s-Stravinskian style exploring the venerable modernist topics of ennui, hallucination, nightmare, misery, and, of course, death. It opens with an introduction redolent of Agon; the scoring is filled with energetic brass fanfares and acidic instrumental commentaries. A Trolley Ride to America and Back describes a dark, angular world of railways and gray wharves. Ms. Zavalloni’s childlike, non-classically trained mezzo is atmospheric enough in its way for these disturbing texts, though it should be noted that she is the wrong sex to represent Mr. Campana and his plight (note his photo reproduced in the booklet). Her singing is quite a trial for the duration of an entire CD.

The more appropriately assigned Letter from Cathy (2003) sets an excerpt from a 1964 letter from Cathy Berberian to Andriessen (in English) describing a visit by her to Stravinsky to discuss his new Elegy for JFK, which was to be rewritten for Ms. Berberian. It appears that Ms. Zavalloni is striving to be a 21st-century version of Cathy Berberian, but I think that is a stretch. If you like your modernism mid-century, you will enjoy this. Gil Rose’s group as usual couldn’t be better. The many obbligato violin passages are played with considerable virtuosity by Monica Germino.

The program opens with Bells for Haarlem (2002), a brief prelude written for the recent reopening of the Concertgebouw, scored for glockenspiel, vibraphone, celeste, and piano. All told, this release is likely to appeal to a limited audience, so proceed with caution.

- Allen Gimbel

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