I had to listen to this collection of Louis Karchin’s vocal music several times before I really felt I understand what was going on and could then evaluate it fairly. That’s a shortcoming on my part, but I will say that the exercise was not without reward.
For the most part, Karchin sets his texts in a Very declamatory style. The melodies tend to skip around quite a bit. My impression is that Karchin wants to avoid any hint of traditional melody to keep the listener focused on the words and their message.
There are plenty of academic composers who do the same thing, but what sets Karchin’s music apart is the imaginative ways he uses the instruments that accompany the voices. Karchin has a talent for combining instruments in unusual — but not outre — ways to create a sense of otherworldliness. It’s most effective in his works for voice and chamber ensemble (like A Way Separate and the gods of Winter). But it’s part of what makes American visions work so well.
American Visions for baritone and orchestra, is the most ambitious work on the album. It’s a 25-minute paen to the Grand Canyon that also contemplates on the nature and function of this most American natural wonder. Karchin’s orchestration expresses the expansiveness of the canyon, while also underlining the poet’s ambivalence about it. Baritone Thomas Megiloranze sings in a heroic fashion, his intensity never flagging throughout the long work.
Personally, I found Karchin’s music to be an acquired taste. But it’s one I’m glad to have developed.
Louis Karchin: to the Sun and Stars – Vocal Music (1982-2012)
Thomas Megioranza, baritone; Mary Mackenzie, soprano; Sharon Harms, soprano; Eric Sedgwick, piano; Ekmeles; Da Capo Chamber Players; Orchestra of the League of Composers, Louis Karchin, conductor