American Record Guide review (March/April 2021)


Cacioppo: Illuminations

Kristina Bachrach, s; William Sharp, bar; Evan Ocheret, ob; Curt Cacioppo, Debra Lew Harder, Wan-Chi Su, p—MSR 1777—54 minutes

After a career of performing as a pianist and teaching for 41 years at Harvard University and Haverford College, Curt Cacioppo (b. 1951) retired from academia in mid-2020. He has won numerous awards over the years and made more than a dozen recordings. We have reviewed a few of them—most recently “Ritornello”. George Adams described his music as neo-classical and wrote that “his melodies and gestures are easily understood and accessible” (S/O 2016). This program has two major works: an “operistica” Luce è Donna, a setting of a poem by the distinguished Italian poet Luigi Cerantola, and his setting of Walt Whitman’s ‘I, madly struggling, cry’. It also includes settings of three other Cerantola poems and two solo piano works. His compositions have been influenced by a broad variety of sources including the medieval poetry of Dante, aspects of Native American culture, and the music he grew up with. His style is a mixture of discordant and tonal elements and improvisatory jazz. You can hear quotations here and there from Mozart, Puccini, and Chopin. He describes his piano piece ‘Notturno Elidiano’ as “an Elysian tribute to a musical hero: Frédéric Chopin”. One of the Cerantola settings with piano and oboe accompaniment is quite lushly romantic. The other piano piece, ‘Paean’, performed by the composer, recalls the duet in praise of conjugal love from Beethoven’s Fidelio. The closing work is a majestic setting of Whitman’s poem in praise of the broad heterogeneity and equanimity of the United States of America. It begins with the words: “Restriction of immigration?” and is an amplification of the famous quotation from Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty welcoming people “yearning to breathe free”. (Cacioppo took the liberty of adding the words “as our forebears were welcomed” to the text.) Written in 2018, it makes a clear and needed statement addressing current US government immigration policy. The performances are gripping and compelling. Kristina Bachrach uses a variety of vocal techniques and hits stratospheric heights thrillingly. William Sharp serves as both narrator and singer for the Whitman piece. His warm and vibrant voice brings out the grandeur of the text. All three pianists and oboist are first rate. The composer wrote the notes, except that literature professor Brian Yothers wrote about the Whitman setting. Text and translations. R MOORE