Blumberg & Miami Quartet Perform Gordon's "Green Sneakers"
Maybe this is not quite in line with the joyful sentiments of this season, but here is something really worth hearing. Blue Griffin Recording has released a very moving performance by the sensitive young baritone, Jesse Blumberg, and the excellent Miami String Quartet, of Ricky Ian Gordon's song cycle "Green Sneakers." Gordon wrote a series of poems more than ten years ago, reminiscences, meditations, reflections, inspired by the passing of his life partner, Jeffrey Grossi. As Gordon recounts in the booklet notes, the creation of these poems was a spontaneous expression, a reaction to loss, a reflection of love and remembrance.

The poems sat for the longest time, when suddenly, a decade later, as he was preparing for a production of one of his operas, he received an invitation to write a piece for a music festival and as he pondered what to write, the poems came back to memory in the form of a song cycle with a baritone and a string quartet. Voila!

In fact, the piece, which runs just under an hour, might well be performed as a one-character chamber opera, written as it is in the first person, narrating events from the composer's life with his partner, including the events leading to his partner's death, and the aftermath of grief and remembrance. Photos in the booklet show that it has been performed in this way by Blumberg, who also plays a brief piano solo prior to the final song - a startling interjection of a new musical voice after 50 minutes of string quartet with voice.

Gordon is one of our best contemporary song writers, embracing an expressive idiom of rich tonality. His writing for the string quartet and voice is expert, beautifully projecting and enhancing his own texts.

One might think this would be a morose piece of work, but it's not. The tone is meditative, lyrical, sad at times, but with its moments of wonder and happiness as well. I found it intensely moving, in a performance well suited to the work. I highly recommend it.

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- Arthur S. Leonard, Leonard Link, 23 December 2009