LAZAROF:  Choral Symphony (Symphony No. 3).  "Encounters" with Dylan Thomas for Soprano and Chamber Ensemble
Sheila Nadler (alto, Symphony); Terry Cook (baritone, Symphony); Phyllis-Bryn Julson (soprano, Encounters); Seattle Symphony Orchestra & Chorale; Gerard Schwarz, cond.

CENTAUR CRC 2519 (F) (DDD) TT:  73:30

Composer Henri Lazarof, Bulgarian-born, studied mainly at Brandeis with Harold Shapero and Arthur Berger. From both, he learned a solid craft. Lazarof experiments, in the best sense of the word. That is, he tries to push himself in every piece to achieve something new. Normally, such composers have a very small output, but Lazarof has a rather large catalogue. He has enjoyed a prestigious career, even though the public at large hardly knows him, with a continuing string of commissions from high-profile organizations and artists.

However, I don't really like anything of his I've heard. I can respect its craft, particularly its gorgeous orchestration, but that's about it. On this CD, hardly any moment in either work grabbed me or made me forget the considerable technique. However, technique isn't everything. For me, really great art has a clarity of intent and a definite shape - exactly what I don't get from Lazarof. The music seems to me to be marking time. That is, I mark time waiting for lightning to strike. I like a lot of different kinds of music, and I never discriminate against music on the basis of its vocabulary. Parts of Lazarof's symphony sound dodecaphonically serial, for example. There's a bit of Stravinsky here, some Bartók there. But it mostly sounds fuzzy, as if the composer were simply note-spinning. Mostly, it's like looking at a pastel done in shades of muddy brown. The great exception, however, is the symphony's third movement, a beautiful lament, featuring the alto soloist and chorus.

The text of the symphony is Lazarof's own - a polyglot concoction that comes across as a kind of Esperanto. I must admit that I dislike poems that begin something like "O, Infinitude! My soul and the cosmos are one!" and prefer poems that begin with, say, a buzzing fly. I tend to think of poetry as reaching the large through the small and precisely observed. By that criterion, Lazarof's text, mainly abstractions like "sonority," "death," and "darkness," doesn't really count as poetry. But that's ultimately a quibble. Lazarof fails to bring the text to life through the music. It becomes simply a peg to hang the music on. Thus, the chorus and soloists add little in the way of expressiveness and little more than a different sonority.The settings of Dylan Thomas are a different matter. Academia has rarely liked Thomas's poetry, and it certainly lies beyond Fashion's Pale now. I fail to see how anyone interested in verbal music can dismiss Thomas's poems. Lazarof chooses well - poems from all periods of Thomas's career, and poems not very well known. However, Lazarof seems absolutely uninterested in the music of the poetry, or even the meaning of the poems. He ignores these things to such an extent that you wonder why Lazarof wanted to set these poems at all. Basically, the soprano soloist scoops and swoops like a slide whistle. There's no feeling of necessity -- that the music is necessary to the poem or the poem to the music.

Both works get thoroughly professional performances from the Seattle forces. The sound is acceptable.

S.G.S.  (March 2002)