Jamie Chamberlin / Ariel Pisturino / Victoria Kirsch

Terrain of the Heart: Song Cycles of Mark Abel

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California-based composer Mark Abel has developed a unique musical language that incorporates strong influences from rock music without losing the basic shape of classical song. He is less a crossover composer than one who has managed to absorb rock rhythms into a largely tonal classical style. The shapes of his long melodies owe little to rock, which comes in mostly on the rhythmic side. William Bolcom, or a less flamboyant Leonard Bernstein, would be the closest comparisons. The three song cycles here are varied in theme: the opening set, The Dark-Eyed Chameleon, is a personal story of a romantic breakup, with texts by Abel himself. Abel also furnished the text for the concluding Rainbow Songs, but the middle work, Five Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, treads more conventional art song territory. It's a testament to the distinctiveness of Abel's music that the Rilke cycle fits with the other two, whose language has a much plainer idiom. Indeed the directness of Abel's texts is one of the strong points of his songs in itself. In his earlier orchestral song cycle The Dream Gallery, a set of portraits of California communities, that directness spilled over into wit. The present songs do not, and they're perhaps a trifle less satisfying, but Abel is still developing a characteristic body of work.

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