Audiophile Audition
Daniel Coombs
September 15, 2013

The music of Jacob Druckman has always fascinated me. I first became familiar with this Julliard-trained composer with his Chiaroscuro and I was immediately hooked. Druckman, who also taught at Yale University for many years, was a composer who had a gift for colorful orchestration, interesting but non-strident harmonies and some fascinating treatments of counterpoint.
Druckman won the 1972 Pulitzer for his orchestral work, Windows, and his large scale orchestral pieces had a very good run around the major orchestras of the country through the 1970s and 1980s; thanks in part to having a few visionary conductors (Leonard Slatkin, for example) being promoters of his work. Ultimately, Druckman may be remembered at least equally as a teacher of composers and theoreticians, by all accounts, but his music remains fresh and bracing and deserves to remain in the performance repertoire.
This collection examines some of Druckman’s finest later works; in which he demonstrated a fascination with older music and developed a very unique style that was really a mélange of “styles.”
In the group of works that paid homage to older early Baroque forms, we have two wonderful selections here. Delizie contente che l’alma beate (loosely: “Happy that delights the blessed soul”) takes its title from an aria within the opera Giasone, by Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676) Druckman’s work explores the main melody and transforms it into a fairly brief ethereal work, featuring English horn as opposed to thecastrato within the opera. A more substantial exploration of this same approach is Druckman’s treatment of the ‘Suite’ from Medee by Charpentier. Here is ballet music in five movements is given a very exotic vision, almost like listening to the very familiar through a contemporary haze; as in most of Druckman’s works there is a beauty and freshness that pervades the experience but which pays homage to, not dissects, Carpentier’s original.
Two of the later works indicative of the composer’s later eclecticism are presented here. That Quickening Pulse, from 1988, was written as a stunning, attention-getting concert opener with plenty of brass and percussion. Nor Spell Nor Charm was originally written as an art song after Shakespeare for the great American mezzo Jan DeGaetani. This work was also written in full realization of the fact that the singer was dying of leukemia. The principle material from that song was turned into the orchestral work, without voice, recorded here in 1990.
Druckman’s long affiliation with the stunningly talented contemporary music specialist, DeGaetani – who also collaborated many times with George Crumb, in this same era – gave us Lamia, the poignant song cycle written in 1975 on a variety of texts that symbolize – but do not portray – the title character, a fallen queen in ancient Libya. This is a truly fascinating and ethereal work that summons another aria from Cavalli’s Giasone as well as Tristan und Isolde by Wagner. The texts certainly paint a picture of the circumstances that led to Lamia’s demise but were not written specifically about her. The third and fourth songs, in particular (“Folk conjuration against death or other absence of the soul” and the Cavalli-Wagner blend) are particularly stunning. Lucy Shelton is a major talent whose work, in part, mirrors that of DeGaetani; who was her mentor. I had the supreme good fortune to hear Jan DeGaetani sing Crumb live many years ago and the highest compliment I can think of paying Lucy Shelton is that her singing reminds me of DeGaetani. Lamia is a very important work indeed.
The BMOP and director, Gil Rose, continually put out important albums of contemporary American music that are superbly interpreted and performed. The production values are high as well, with superb sound quality and attractive, useful packaging. This disc is an essential for admirers of Jacob Druckman’s music. I would also urge younger composers and students to seek out the music of this very important and influential American master.