Musical reviews: Ensemble Lorelei – James Kallembach: ‘Antigone’ and Plínio Fernandes – ‘Saudade’

Ensemble Lorelei – James Kallembach: Antigone: the writings of Sophie Scholl and the movement of the white rose

The subtitle of James Kallembach’s choral suite Antigone, “The Writings of Sophie Scholl and the Movement of the White Rose”, heralds a world of inquiry combining ancient myth and 20th century mythology. To this challenge, the composer applies an artistic sensibility that mixes primitive colors in a palette of sometimes lyrical melodies and harmonies.

At Sophocles Antigone the main character defies authority by burying his deceased brother, who had opposed the seizure of the throne by their uncle Creon. Kallembach perceived a parallel between the execution of Antigone and that of World War II resistance hero Sophie Scholl. Along with his brother Hans, Scholl worked with the White Rose Movement against the Nazi regime from within. When arrested, she refused to name her co-conspirators and was executed in 1942.

(The Scholls and the White Rose movement have been the subject of many books; a picture book about Sophie is coming out this summer, in fact. She was memorably portrayed in the 2005 film Sophie Scholl: Die letzten Tage (The Last Days).)

Commissioned by the Lorelei Ensemble, Kallembach composed passages from Sophocles and writings by Scholl to create Antigone, his suite for female voices and cello quartet. The ensemble premiered it in 2017 and New Focus Recordings have just released a stellar studio recording of this extremely relevant music.

Through 14 tracks occupying just over 36 minutes, the composer stages excerpts from both sources, constructing an austere theatrical narrative. With a modernist harmonic sense, but also reflecting early liturgical music, the piece feels timeless. Touching and sometimes sublime, it coaxes its twin stories into a lugubrious flowering. I recommend listening to it first cold, then listening to it again following the text.

Antigone is now available for streaming and download.

Plinio Fernandes – Saudade

The beginnings of the Brazilian guitarist Plínio Fernandes on a major Saudade presents to a wider audience an exceptionally talented musician who plays with impeccable technique and a joyful and contagious spirit. Released now on Decca Gold, it features several beautiful arrangements and a composition by the inimitable Sérgio Assad. Jobim’s tunes among these include an energetic “Samba Do Avião”, one of the highlights of the album, and a complex and fluid version of the “Girl from Ipanema” shows that you can always enjoy this number. omnipresent.

Fernandes’ warm tone and clarity of articulation stand out in virtuoso passages, but perhaps even more so in slower selections, such as Assad’s “Valseana.” Watercolor. Assad’s arrangement of Ary Barroso’s melodic “Aquarela do Brasil” is a slippery gem in Fernandes’ sure hands and another highlight of the album.

Photo credit: Decca Gold/Rebecca Naen

Fernandes duets with cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason during the album’s initial smooth dive into the canon of Heitor Villa-Lobos. The disc ends with guest violinist Braimah Kanneh-Mason on Assad’s sweet “Menino”.

There is a somewhat bizarre, almost ironic arrangement of a Milton Nascimento number. It leads to the popular Villa-Lobos 5 Preludes (W419), which form the centerpiece of the album. Here, Fernandes reveals both his virtuoso and lyrical talents, finding emotion in the music without indulging in sentimentality. The pensive prelude in A minor is a particularly successful example.

Maria Rita brings subtle, quivering vocals to the sweet “O Mundo É Um Moinho”, which also features some extremely sensitive guitar work from Fernandes.

A few faster tracks would have given the album more balance, but it’s a great listen nonetheless. Saudade is out now.