In the early years of this century, the Argentinian Osvaldo Golijov was one of the most sought-after composers around. In works such as the choral St Mark Passion and his opera Ainadamar his eclectic style, with ingredients including pop, klezmer, new tango and Sephardic chant, and paying little attention to stylistic boundaries, was accessibly packaged and attracted a wide audience. But it’s a long time now since Golijov completed a major work, and over the last 10 years in particular, his career has been characterised by a series of unfulfilled deadlines and abandoned commissions. The problem has less been a case of creative block, it seems, for he continued to compose, than a dissatisfaction with what he produced.
But the 80-minute Falling Out of Time, first performed last autumn, marks Golijov’s return to some kind of fluency, and is undeniably a substantial; he calls it a “tone poem in voices”. It’s based on David Grossman’s 2014 novel of the same name, about a grieving father who sets out on a hopeless journey to reconnect with his dead child, which was written as a response to the death of Grossman’s own son, killed while serving with Israeli forces in Lebanon. Golijov has parsed Grossman’s poetic text into 13 numbers with a clear dramatic trajectory, and shared the settings between three singers (Nora Fischer, Biella da Costa and Wu Tong on the recording, which is taken from early performances) who play characters from the novel.
This extended meditation on loss and grief, is conveyed on a musical fabric that adds jazz, blues and elements of central Asian music to Golijov’s usual stylistic amalgam, and uses the multinational instrumentalists of the Silkroad Ensemble – string quintet, trumpet and percussion alongside guitar, pipa, kamancheh (a bowed Iranian instrument) and sheng (a Chinese reed instrument) – to create an allusive patchwork of colours and textures, though these resources are generally used with great restraint. Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, there are very few moments of light relief, or real contrast, so the impression the cycle leaves is rather diffuse and generalised; Falling Out of Time, Golijov’s work, that is, rather than Grossman’s, never packs the emotional punch one expects.
This week’s other pick
For a very different brand of contemporary music there’s the latest release in BR Klassik’s Musica Viva series, which is devoted to works by Rebecca Saunders. Two single-movement concertos, Still for violin, and Alba for trumpet, played by the exceptional soloists for whom they were written, Carolin Widmann and Marco Blaauw, frame Aether, an extended duo for bass clarinets. All three works show Saunders’ extraordinary command of instrumental detail, which seems to burrow into the very core of every sound, and scrutinise it meticulously.