Vazzana's 'Whispers and Chants' Echoes a Poet

Sunday, the Southwest Chamber Music Society gave the world premiere of Anthony Vazzana's "Whispers and Chants," along with a varied program which included the U.S. premiere of a recently published work by Benjamin Britten. A polite crowd of 30 listeners attended the concert at the Santa Ana High School auditorium.

Although Vazzana's music is devoutly dedicated to academic formality and rigor, it emerged as refreshingly unpretentious. Instead of dogmatically expounding esoteric ideas and theories, Vazzana--who teaches at USC--opted for a more modest approach, using more traditional formal structures here and there while concentrating on carefully placed sonorities.

Fitting nicely with Vazzana's humble musical mien was his choice of texts by the late Jacob Zeitlin, an unassuming but important Los Angeles literary figure and bookseller. "Whispers and Chants" uses seven texts taken from two volumes of Zeitlin's poetry of the same title.

Scored for soprano, alto flute, horn, viola, harp and two percussionists, "Whispers and Chants" held the listener in a trancelike state as the seven poems--each representing a different phase of the moon--presented images of pagan mysticism, often imitated by rapid instrumental passages and sound effects. One movement, entitled "Dirge," quoted the Gregorian Dies Irae as it slowly plodded along.

Soprano Annie Kim sang with a clear, slightly timid bel canto style that fit the overall somber mood of the music. Conducting adroitly from a chair, Jeff von der Schmidt led the musicians, who followed unflinchingly.

Benjamin Britten's intimate parlor piece, "The Heart of the Matter," is a setting of four verses by Edith Sitwell, pondering despair and Christian revelation. Tenor Michael Sells delivered the vocal part with reverance and reserve, while pianist Albert Dominguez played with finesse and accuracy. Von der Schmidt, who was recovering from an automobile accident, was at times noticeably straining on the horn part.

A confident, memorized performance of Debussy's short solo flute piece "Syrinx" by Dorothy Stone opened the program, followed by a satisfying reading of Debussy's Trio by Stone, violist Jan Karlin and harpist Amy Schulman.

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