“Why so little Rilke-music?” a critic from The New York Times asked over 20 years ago, noting how many composers have kept a respectful distance from this great poet. Among those who have heeded the challenge of setting his texts is the composer James Primosch, who has turned to Rilke’s religious poetry for a number of songs that elegantly combine personal fervor and worldly sophistication.
On Tuesday at the Juilliard School’s Paul Hall, the New Juilliard Ensemble presented the New York premiere of Mr. Primosch’s “From a Book of Hours,” set to devotional texts Rilke first published in 1905. With one evoking “the calm between two notes” that get along with difficulty, yet “are reconciled, with trembling, in the dark rest,” it’s the sort of poetry that’s aching to be sung.
Alexandra Razskazoff gave a beautiful performance of this captivating work, which benefited as much from her richly faceted, slinky soprano as from the expressive clarity she brought to the German text. Art song requires a singer to lavish as much thoughtfulness and art on diction as on musical phrasing, and Ms. Razskazoff appears to have the makings of a great recitalist.
The ensemble, under the assured direction of Joel Sachs, sounded most comfortable in this work, with its late-Romantic language laced with idiosyncratic colorings.
– Corinna da Fonsecca-Wollheim, New York Times, November 18, 2015
…a composer whose music deserves wider exposure…Primosch reveals both his sensitivity to the texts and to orchestral color as a means of extending and enhancing the dramatic possibilities of the human voice… scoring, rich in atmosphere…Even so, the orchestra is so carefully deployed that the solo vocal part is never obscured.” [on From a Book of Hours]
-John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, January 11 , 2002
Rilke’s poems have a distinctly modern sensibility that was beautifully reflected in Primosch’s austere but profoundly thoughtful settings.” [on From a Book of Hours]
-Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times, January 11, 2002