Album Review

Helgeson, Aaron – “Poems of Sheer Nothingness” – [Innova Recordings]

Louie Caliente   3/19/2016   A Library, CD

Aaron Helgeson is an American composer and faculty member at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Helgeson describes his work as “attempting to capture the bizarre beauty of sounds from everyday life (some musical, some not yet) by re-imagining them on
acoustic instruments.”

On this recording his work is performed by Grammy-winning soprano Susan Narucki, accompanied by the Talea Ensemble from NYC.

The first five tracks constitute the main piece “Poems of Sheer Nothingness”, which was commissioned by Narucki and inspired by the music of French Troubadours. The poetic lyrics are sung in ancient Occitane, a romance language still alive today in parts of Southern France.

The second piece, “Notes on a page (of Sappho)”, features English translations of the Greek poet Sappho.

Both pieces have a big dynamic range. Some parts are very sparse, bordering on dead air.

When quiet, the flute gives the impression of small birds chirping, while the clarinet makes breathy sounds and taps its keys. Lots of suspenseful, dissonant chords and staccato piano. These are punctuated by Narucki’s powerful voice, at times melodic and soothing, other times forceful and jarring.

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