Mark Dal Porto: Peace, Nature & Renewal
Originally posted at www.textura.org
Mark Dal Porto’s material has been characterized as neo-Romantic, pensive, and evocative, and certainly the seven works on this memorable collection exemplify such qualities. Dal Porto, an Eastern New Mexico University music professor who’s also a guest composer and conductor at the institution, is well-served by Peace, Nature & Renewal, which is distinguished not only by the calibre of the works presented but a set-list that includes orchestral, chamber, and choir performances. Recorded between 2012 and 2018, the release features the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Vox Futura, Arcadian Winds, and oboist Tracy Carr. Don’t be surprised if composers such as Mahler, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Richard Strauss come to mind as you listen to the recording, with Dal Porto’s compositions aligning themselves to the stylistic tradition associated with those figures more than recent ones.
Drawing for inspiration from an ancient Chinese poem that contrasts the ephemerality of human life with nature’s never-ending capacity for renewal, Song of Eternity for Orchestra opens the album with a powerful, emotionally expressive performance by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Petr Vronský. Moods oscillate between yearning and angst-ridden during the eight-minute tone poem, which rises from passages of delicate quietude to fortissimo outpourings that flirt with dissonance.
Though the subsequent piece was also inspired by an ancient Chinese poem, I Seek Rest for My Lonely Heart for A Cappella Choir parts company from the opener in eschewing instrumental resources for the vocal purity of Vox Futura (Andrew Shenton, conductor). Nature is again involved, with this time the text recounting the travails of a lonely soul searching for peace in a pastoral setting, and consistent with that this oft-hushed work conveys an intimate, personal quality. Exuberant by comparison is When Your Song Rang Out to Me for SATB Choir, whose message of joy is delivered by the vocal ensemble with passion and conviction. One of the album’s most memorable pieces, the work presents the singers, supported by piano accompaniment, declaiming rapturously about music’s limitless reach, while the later Spring, the Sweet Spring, a paean to the season’s arrival, is as joyous and animated.
An even more personal note is struck by Romance for Oboe and Piano, which features the composer’s wife, oboist Tracy Carr, alongside her husband on piano. In one of the album’s most expressive performances, the two naturally explore multiple contrasts in dynamics, mood, and tempo before delivering a moving final sequence that plays like an elegant tribute to Mahler and specifically his ninth symphony. Capping the recording with eight minutes of orchestral grandeur, Mystic Mountain for Orchestra renders into musical form the ascent of a solitary hiker from a mountain’s base to its summit and the sublime sensations that arrive when the breathtaking panorama is absorbed from the resultant perch.
If there’s an album outlier, it’s the Exotic Animals Suite for Woodwind Quintet, which departs from the neo-Romantic expressivity of the other works for an unusual and rather playful setting that has more in common with Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf than his brooding Symphony No. 5. Performed by Arcadian Winds (flutist Vanessa Holroyd, oboist Jane Harrison, clarinetist Rane Moore, hornist Fred Aldrich, and bassoonist Janet Underhill), the three-part suite frames a serpentine central part, “Exotic Snakes and Lizards,” with “Exotic Birds” and the rather Stravinsky-like “Exotic Cats,” both of which use extended woodwind techniques to evoke the squawks, growls, roars, and squeals of the titular creatures. As different in tone as the piece is from the others, its injection of levity doesn’t prove unwelcome, adding as it does one more dimension to a recording already abundant in them.