Albert In Concordiam; Treestone
James Joyce has meant a great deal to twentieth-century composers such as Cage and Berio. The American Stephen Albert is adding another chapter to music intoxicated with the world of the Irish writer, in this case based on his final so-called novel Finnegans Wake. Albert's first response was a vocal work To Wake the Dead (1979), given last March in the presence of the composer at the American Music Festival of the Royal Academy of Music in London. Then came two Joyce-inspired works at once in 1983-4: RiverRun, the symphony which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1985, and TreeStone, recorded here.
I found To Wake the Dead rather over-extended in spite of vivid illustrative material with plenty of colour. TreeStone, four years later, shows greater command. The connection with Tristan and Isolde leads to two soloists—Lucy Shelton, a lovely soprano, and David Gordon, exactly the kind of easy high tenor Joyce admired, often sounding uncannily like Peter Pears. There are some memorable sections—the crazy waltz from ''A Grand Funeral'' or the sumptuous duet in ''Fallen Griefs''—but it would have been more illuminating to have had Albert's text or at least page references to Finnegans Wake to find it. At times the music is inexplicably rambling, discursive like Joyce himself, but the wit is less apparent and less easy to convey musically. Albert seems to have found his own voice through Joyce and TreeStone gets a dedicated performance.
In Concordiam (1986-8) is a kind of violin concerto in a single movement. It shows the composer's development since TreeStone, without a text but nevertheless a type of plot. This is based on knowing style-modulations through various violin concerto manners from Bruch to Stravinsky, all richly scored. Albert is naturally eclectic, in this concerto weakest in passagework and sequences, but again admirably performed and recorded.'