Harry Somers: Chura-Churum; The Merman of Orford

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Harry Somers (1925-1999), one of the leading Canadian composers of his generation, left a large body of work, but it is only since his death that his music has been recorded with any regularity, due largely to the Somers Recording Project and the Centrediscs label. The two works recorded here, Chura-Churum and incidental music for The Merman of Orford, show vastly different sides of the composer. Chura-Churum (1985), originally conceived for the Swingle Singers, is scored for eight singers and eight instrumentalists and reflects Somers' interest in the avant-garde (one of the things that set him apart from most of his Canadian contemporaries). The 30-minute work, a setting of a Sanskrit text, uses only extended vocal techniques, largely in a fragmented, pointillist way. It inhabits something of the sound world of Ligeti's Aventures and Nouvelles aventures, but without the humor; the tone is mostly mysterious and meditative. The music for The Merman of Orford, for a mixed ensemble of five instruments, is tied to the action of the mime play for which it was written in 1978. Its 14 movements are pleasant, and mostly brief enough not to wear out their welcome, but taken as a whole, the piece comes across as musically thin, and fails to make a very strong or coherent impression. The committed performers in both works sing and play with spirit and conviction. Centrediscs' sound is clean and present.

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