KANDER Hermestänze. Solo Sonata. A Garden’s Time Piece
All three of Susan Kander’s works on this new MSR Classics release have personal ties, even beyond the fact that all three performances feature her son, the violinist Jacob Ashworth, who is also a producer at the innovative Heartbeat Opera company in NYC.
It was Ashworth who commissioned his mother to write ‘a song-cycle for violin and piano’, which she called Hermestänze in homage to the mercurial Greek god. The highlights of Kander’s 14 short character studies may include ‘The Lyre’, which the violinist plucks out while simultaneously bowing a timeless lullaby against Lee Dionne’s lovely piano surreally doubling the tune. By contrast, Kander’s study of Apollo, another god of music, is raptly serene.
There’s sterner stuff in Kander’s Solo Sonata for the unusual configuration of violin-viola-violin. It was commissioned by Yuval Waldman in the wake of 9/11 and exists on a more remote plane, its emotions rooted in the different ‘souls’ of the two instruments themselves; the music is eloquent, impersonal and, in the central ‘Lament’ for viola, wrenchingly powerful.
A Garden’s Time Piece was commissioned to celebrate the poet Leslie Laskey’s 90th birthday, so Kander chose text from Laskey’s 2010 collection Bright Light and Dark Shadow from which to assemble a dialogue in eight parts for soprano and violin. It is a lovely conceit, including mention of crocuses in the opening and closing stanzas, which Kander takes advantage of with devices such as the whirring trills accompanying ‘There is a madness to the October winds’. Ashworth and Jessica Petrus play and sing expressively and knowingly throughout.