Academic journal article Journal of Singing

The Palm Trees Are Restless: Five Poems of Kate Gale, for Soprano and Piano (2014)

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

The Palm Trees Are Restless: Five Poems of Kate Gale, for Soprano and Piano (2014)

Article excerpt

Abel, Mark (b. 1948). The Palm Trees are Restless: Five Poems of Kate Gale, for soprano and piano (2014). 1) "The Storm Drain"; 2) "Los Angeles"; 3) "Crater Light"; 4) "Shura"; 5) "The Great Divorce." Publisher: Classical Vocal Reprints. Available for high and medium high soprano. Duration: 21'28".

Mark Abel is a California based composer with an already impressive body of vocal work who demonstrates from a compositional mélange of rock, jazz, and classical influences, "a stylistic meld that successfully combines elements of all three: the expressive depth of classical music, the in-your-face impact of rock, and the free-flowing and quasi-improvisatory nature of jazz" (Home is a Harbor, CD Delos DE3495 booklet).

With The Palm Trees are Restless, Abel has set the haunting and very sensual lyrics of Los Angeles poet Kate Gale (from the book Echo Light, Red Mountain Press) to great effect. Premiered by Grammy-award winning soprano Hila Plitmann (see "Listener's Gallery," p. 115, for the CD review), all the songs utilize the high register of the soprano voice, with optional lowering of certain lines down an octave in the newly edited version offered by Classical Vocal Reprints. They are harmonically tonal, with a few spoken lines, and although meter changes are frequent, the songs are not rhythmically difficult. Abel's directions to both singer and pianist throughout the cycle are couched in emotional language, for example,"wistfully," "ecstatically," or "urgently."

In the first song about an enigmatic sexual encounter, "The Storm Drain" (D#^sub 4^-A^sub 5^), the piano accompaniment is flowing and, at times, dense. Although the voice soars to an A^sub 5^ at the climax of the piece, the tessitura remains mostly in the middle voice. The vocal line in "Los Angeles People" (D^sub 4^-C^sub 6^) lies above the staff for many lines of this acerbic text, depicting the relentless sunshine and the pressure of life in the city where "you must be thin ... to cast a shadow. You must drive a cool car ... You must have blond highlights." "Crater Light" (D^sub 4^-C^sub 6^) recounts a conversation in a bar between the poetess and the abysmal man trying to seduce her, with the broken chords in the piano his narcissistic, misguided wooing. "Shura" (C#^sub 4^-B^sub 5^) is an elegiac remembering of a sister's face in beautiful decay, and the final "The Great Divorce" (C#^sub 4^-C^sub 6^) is by far the most exacting of all the songs, with the soprano expressing her hysterical rage with difficult texts on high repeated notes at breakneck speed.

The Palm Trees are Restless is an excellent choice for a very particular kind of soprano voice able to negotiate the demanding tessitura, text delivery and dramatic are of these five songs. …

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