Mara Gibson writes music filled with all manner of images and associations. The repertoire on this recording was mostly inspired by poetry and paintings, though the results are rarely slavish in depicting specific events or atmospheres. What binds these pieces are Gibson’s concise handling of musical materials and her spectrum of sonic approaches.
The disc’s namesake, Sky-Born, is a compact evocation of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem ‘Music’ scored for four singers (sung here by eight), two violins and cello. The vocal lines take flight over pizzicato strings, the text’s myriad references to birds deftly suggested. Paintings by Jim Condron are the source for six short piano preludes, Conundrums, that convey the anxieties of the title in various wisps and torrents of sound. Holly Roadfeldt is the vivid pianist.
Gibson also reveals her experimental bent in Blackbird, suggested by Wallace Stevens’s poem ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’, through the spirited and moody interactions of a string quartet (in this performance the vibrant Cascade Quartet). Spark, for trombone and two pianists, explores various heightened emotional states, while Folium Cubed presents a soprano saxophone (Zachary Shemon) teasing the ear through an array of techniques.
Hannah Ensor’s poem ‘Breath’ kindled an inventive response from Gibson. She set the verses for mezzo-soprano and a viola player who shares in recitation duties. It is titled One Voice, which is reflected in the seamless interweaving achieved by the fine collaborators (mezzo Megan Ihnen and viola player Michael Hall).