Jacob Druckman (1928-1996) was one of greatest orchestral composers – if not the finest – of the 20th century. Though his music adhered to a sometimes-difficult aesthetic, Druckman, like his great contemporary, György Ligeti, had such a command of instrumentation that he could simply draw in listeners through the engaging peculiarity of his sound world. That reality is demonstrated powerfully in BMOP’s new album, Lamia, which documents music Druckman composed or arranged over the last decade of his life.
The title track, a bizarre, sometimes terrifying collection of texts that explore parallels between the art of music and the art of conjuring spells, receives a brave performance from the magnificent Lucy Shelton. There doesn’t seem to be much Ms. Shelton can’t do, even after being in the business for some four decades: she’s at the height of her powers and is at her pristine best in Lamia’s most harrowing moments. Mr. Rose and BMOP are with her every step of the way, conjuring musical spells of their own through Druckman’s swirling eddies of sound.
Druckman wrote Lamia for the mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani and DeGaetani was also the focus of Nor Spell Nor Charm, a twelve-minute piece for chamber orchestra that develops a short song Druckman had composed for her shortly before she died in 1989. It’s an anguished, heartbreaking piece that’s disturbing in its graphic portrayal of meaningless loss: at the end, the music simply stops, mid-thought.
Less grim is That Quickening Pulse, a brawny concert opener for lots of brass and percussion that makes a big, bold opening to the disc.
Also included on this album are two orchestral arrangements Druckman made of music by Baroque composers. His settings of Francesco Cavalli’s short Delizie Contente che l’Alme Beate and a suite from Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Médée both gamely reflect Druckman’s interest in and love for early music.
Throughout the album, Mr. Rose draws playing from BMOP that is basically flawless: the ease with which this orchestra jumps about, stylistically, in contemporary repertoire is simply astonishing. It’s all a terrific celebration of a great American composer, one his fans (and lovers of American music, generally) should welcome, and a reminder – as if one were needed – of the importance of BMOP and its label.