Rudiger Bohn / Luzerner Sinfonieorchester

José M. Sánchez-Verdú: Gramma

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Spanish composer José M. Sánchez-Verdú's opera Gramma: Gardens of Writing received its premiere at the 2006 Munich Biennale, the festival that commissioned it. The piece stretches the conventions of opera in several ways. First, there is a narrative scenario, but the singers do not necessarily articulate the narrative, leaving it to the audience to have already familiarized itself with the action described in the program notes. Second, the audience members are active participants, sitting at schools desks with notebooks in which they are to write, and the performers are positioned above them on a metal grid, "like Marilyn Monroe on the New York subway grate." Although Sánchez-Verdú has at his disposal a full orchestra, four soloists, and chorus, he uses them so sparingly that the whole piece rarely rises above the dynamic level of very quiet chamber music. The piece is notable for its consistently quiet, cryptic mood, its tiny, isolated instrumental sounds, and vocal murmuring and whispering. It seems like an opera that could be effective when staged as intended, but as a purely aural experience, it gives the listener very little to go on. Rüdiger Bohn leads the soloists, chorus, and Luzerner Sinfonieorchester in a performance that is difficult to evaluate apart from the fact that it must be what the composer intended because it has his imprimatur. The sound is clean and clear, so the minute details of orchestration are easily audible.

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