ANDERSON-BAZZOLI Continent's End
Nearly everything about this disc arrives like a bolt out of the blue. The poet Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) was quite famous in his own time (also as a playwright and environmentalist of sorts), and it’s his earlier, California-inspired verse that’s adapted for this nine-song cycle Continent’s End by Christopher Anderson-Bazzoli (b1969), a seasoned West Coast craftsman (copyist, orchestrator and film score composer) who stakes his claim here as a front-and-centre artist. He composed Continent’s End by improvising vocal lines to Jeffers’s poems, which he then recorded, with piano-writing to follow.
However short the disc (33 minutes), epic qualities abound. The poems are full of quickly shifting imagery conveying a rugged coastal terrain with a belief in survival of the fittest, no matter how cruel it may seem, one poem describing the horrible beauty of wild fires. The opening song, ‘Granite and Cypress’, sets the tone, with arioso ish vocal lines unfurling over aggressive arpeggios that are as changeable as coastal weather. The ending is oddly nonchalant but leads well into the following song, ‘Natural Music’, which characterises ‘the old voice of the ocean’. That music is slow, spare and with less defined harmonic direction. Later songs create narrative by developing thematic content gradually, though most often songs are built from alternately lyrical and rhetorical modules that flow together in some instances but also crash up against each other with a poetic juxtaposition that sounds fortuitously accidental.
One of the composer’s wittiest inspirations comes from Jeffers’s more detached portrayals of mankind, set to music suggesting an extremely busy ant hill. Though not particularly original, Anderson-Bazzoli admirably doesn’t follow in anybody’s footsteps.
Should this cycle take its place alongside, say, Elgar’s Sea Pictures? Hard to say in this performance because mezzo-soprano Buffy Baggott is severely miscast. Plenty of moments hint at how much she has taken the music into her mind and heart. But rarely does that come out of her voice, which is suited more to Verdi’s Amneris than a piece that walks extremely fine lines, ones that are admirably etched by pianist Kevin Korth. Words are indistinguishable for long passages. And that’s much of what we’re here for.