Friday, May 04, 2007

FriPod: Pray

Given yesterday's post, which was unintentionally a propos given it was the National Day of Prayer, this week's FriPod examines praying.

1. "Down To The River To Pray" from O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, performed by Alison Krauss. This is probably my number one referral, leading people to one of my earlier posts. I'm not sure if this song has more resonance given my conversion, though it probably does. At least the words don't produce cognitive dissonance anymore, even if the song doesn't necessarily put me into a prayer mood.

2. The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, by Osvaldo Golijov, performed by Todd Palmer with the St. Lawrence String Quartet on Yiddishbbuk. This five movement work is for klezmer clarinet and string quartet. The first movement evokes old school Jewish scenery, a musical version of bobbing in front of the Western Wall. The last part of this movement does approach a meditative state. The second movement is a beseeching prayer, in fact all of the movements traverse between various prayer states: supplication, adoration, contrition, rage, peace, questioning.

3. "Invocation to Pan by the nymphs and the prayer of Daphnis" from Daphnis et ChloƩ by Maurice Ravel, performed by Charles Munch, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the New England Conservatory Chorus And Alumni Chorus. This is a scene from the ballet, not the concert suite that is usually performed. This is a little too lush to be a good prayer. The sensual nature of the music, glorifying in the sounds of the chords as most impressionist music does, and the seductive woodwinds and harps (I'm looking at you, Patty and TwTwTw!) brings too much of a focus on the material body and not enough on the ephemeral spirit.

4. Passion Prayers, by Augusta Read Thomas, performed by the Network For New Music Ensemble. This piece features a passionate cello solo with a small chamber group accompanying. This prayer is questioning, trembling, afraid of God yet drawn to It.

5. Prayer for Bruno, by Art Lande, performed by the Aries Brass Quintet. This little gospelly number uses a simple refrain that builds up over time, leading to an authentic cadence finally at 2:15. Then we start over again, except with a plungered trumpet solo over the refrain. So this represents charismatic church prayer, with the plungered trumpet as the minister haranguing his flock as the rest of the quintet calls out "Well" "Praise the Lord" and "Amen". Suddenly at five minutes in, the mood changes, transforming the now familiar refrain to a more abstract hymn briefly before Gospel reasserts itself for the conclusion (no plunger this time, though).

6. Prayer for St. Gregory, by Alan Hovhaness. I have three performances, by Rolf Smedvig, Charles Butler, and an arrangement by the Empire Brass. This is a beautiful piece, peaceful yet also questioning in a sense. The string accompaniment with the trumpet solo evokes Ives'
The Unanswered Question, except the trumpet works with the strings instead of against them. Hovhaness' prayer is also more historical, with typical sequences, cadential figures, etc. The Butler recording is a little too fast, and he doesn't punch the dramatic point enough. But the strings are better than the brass quintet'n'organ arrangement of the Empire Brass. Rolf plays with the organ (and horn) in his version. Rolf is more romantic in his approach, allowing the phrases to ebb and flow. At times this is nice, but in the middle his rubato takes away from the timelessness of the composition, trying too hard to place it within the Classical-Romantic tradition when there are clear pre-tonal references.

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