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Gassir, the Hero  
Opera in One Act
Claron McFadden/Roger Smeets/Christopher Gillett/Timothy Wilson/Robert Poulton/Lieuwe Visser
Asko Ensemble/David Porcelijn
Donemus Composers' Voice CV 35 [34.30]

AmazonUS  $18.97  AmazonUK  £16.99

1. Scene 1: The Sons
Scene 2: The Hero
Scene 3: The Partridge
Scene 4: The Ceremony

5. Scene 5: The Lute
6. Scene 6: The Loss
7. Scene 7: The Song

This concise moral one-acter is based on an African folk tale about a great warrior who was urged to relinquish his triumphalism after a famous victory by a miraculous Partridge, who later becomes a Priestess (both parts ideal for the stratospheric soprano Claron McFadden - known in UK for her collaboration with Birtwistle and as the Airport Controller in Flight by Jonathan Dove at Glyndebourne). The hero Gassir (Robert Poulton) is persuaded to take a lute with him to the next battle by a wise blacksmith (!) - Lieuwe Visser - who had made it. In the battle he loses his sons one by one, but the lute sang of their deeds and that song lives forever.

This is a live recording of the Pierre Audi production at De Nederlandse Opera. It is sung in English and the texts are given clearly and in full - helpfully so, because there are ensembles in which different characters voice their feelings all together, as in the famous operatic ensembles of old. Despite its brevity, it makes a powerful and enduring impression.

The presentation is lavish for such a short work. The booklet gives a fascinating series of extracts from interviews with Theo, who describes how he began to compose secretly from early childhood - it was not the thing to do. He composes largely intuitively and is uninterested in the 'tonal-atonal contrast'.

In Gassir, Loevendie employs Turkish heterophony and his own 'curve technique' based on enlarging or reducing intervals. It is noisy and dramatic at first, but soon settles down. To quote the detailed biography of this important composer in New Grove 2nd Edition:

in - - - the chamber opera Gassir, the Hero - - rhythm and melodic cyclic structures related to Turkish and Arabic music have also come to play an important role. These structures and their connected principle of 'non-octave modes' can be tracked back to the 'curve technique' with which Loevendie - - diverted his attention from rhythmic to pitch organization. Curve technique, unlike serialism, is not a closed system, but a flexible approach to systematic musical thought, which leaves ample latitude for the intuitive and the improvised. In its simplest form it consists of a basic melodic or melodic-rhythmic idea that is maintained throughout a work. This basic thought may be stretched and enlarged, compressed and reduced in such a way that its curve and the inherent relationships between the notes are preserved. - - In Gassir, the Hero, a stack of curves gives rise to a mode which is repeated, not at the octave but at other intervals. - - -

Cost should not be an over-riding concern, but purchasers are bound to be given pause by the price, which Amazon UK had confirmed was correct at £18.99, but have subsequently reduced it as above.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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