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Tony Arnold at the Library of Congress

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • November 3, 2008


his year marks the centenary of the birth of Olivier Messiaen, one of the most strikingly original composers of the 20th century, and the Library of Congress has been marking the event with a series of concerts and lectures exploring his legacy. The celebration continued Saturday night with the fine soprano (and new-music specialist) Tony Arnold performing Messiaen's heady, turbulent and wildly colorful song cycle "Harawi (a Song of Love and Death)."

It takes a singer of considerable imagination to bring off this extravagant music. Inspired by the medieval love story of Tristan and Isolde, "Harawi" is both otherworldly and profoundly human, and incorporates bird song, Hindu rhythms, Peruvian melodies and Messiaen's own poetry to tell the story of lovers who meet their deaths. It's a huge work, rife with exotic textures and emotional complexities, and Arnold -- accompanied skillfully by Jacob Greenberg at the piano -- gave a superb and genuinely insightful account -- whether chanting ritualistically in "Doundou Tchil," evoking a state of quiet grandeur in "Adieu" or summoning near-breathtaking power in the magnificent "Repetition Planetaire."

The Messiaen was the heart of the evening, but Arnold opened the program with a well-chosen selection of other "liebestod" songs that explored the intersection of love and death, from fluffy throwaways like Mozart's "Das Veilchen" to the gripping "Requiem for the Beloved" by Gyorgy Kurtag. The most engaging piece, though, may have been Thomas Adès's "Life Story," which explains, in amusing detail, why lovers sometimes burn themselves up in hotels.

Posted on Monday, November 3, 2008 at 11:03AM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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