Martin Lutz: There Is a Spell upon Your Lips
08 September 2015
American Record Guide
Philip GreenfieldMartin Lutz (b 1974) is a tough musician to pigeon-hole
. He is active in jazz, he’s composed music for children, athletic events, and crossover ensembles; and—this I really like— he continues to teach high school music and German. Herr Lutz is in classical mode here. And while you may hear harmonic glimmerings of jazz (especially in the 10-minute Spell Upon Your Lips for soprano solo, oboe, and choir), it’s in the classical idiom he stays. While the choral writing in Spell, the two motets, and the Shakespeare songs (‘Love’s Own Hand’ and ‘How Oft’) is pleasant enough, it’s the Stabat Mater that will get your attention.Spanning 42 minutes and calling forth the efforts
of soprano and tenor soloists, mixed choir, vibraphone, oboe, and cello, the Stabat Mater is a setting of the familiar Latin poem that sympathizes with Mary as her son meets his fate on the cross. In Lutz’s hands, the text lacks cumulative effect because he divides it up into 17 brief interludes that are pretty much self-contained. The emotional intensity you might expect given the subject matter never quite materializes. Is that because the text was secondary to a composer more interesting in trying out cool sonorities than in plumbing the depths of grief and despair? Some might think so, but I disagree. True, I didn’t come away overwhelmed by the sentiments of the text. But as a series of short meditations on Jacopone’s well-traveled poem, I think Lutz’s piece is interesting and worthwhile. I do hear some mournful oohs and aahs
from the choir in the opening ‘Stabat Mater’. The cello dispenses its unique brand of consolation often. All sorts of evocative effects emanate from the vibraphone, which helps that sadness in the opening section, lends an eerie feel to the tenor’s ‘Quis est homo’, and functions as a continuo keyboard in the baroque-style ‘Inflammatus’ Lutz composed for the tenor. (Bo Kristian Jensen was trained at Oberlin, by the way, and it’s hard to imagine his solos sounding any better. All the singers and players, in fact, are excellent.) I also hear an arresting transition
from the youthful innocence of ‘Virgo virginum’ to the pointed dissonances that begin the ‘Fac ut portem’. That’s followed by the one interlude that really does seem out of place: a bouncy ‘Fac me plagis’ that sounds a little tipsy as it contemplates the observer’s inebriation by the blood of the cross. Hmm.
So while I won’t claim I was deeply moved by this 2007 Stabat Mater, its unique and attractive sonorities did lead to some new, thought-provoking encounters with the familiar medieval text. To me, that counts for something.