UK / USA, 1987, modern classical

The Fires of London / Sir Peter Maxwell Davies / Mary Thomas / Julius EastmanMiss Donnithorne’s Maggot; Eight Songs for a Mad King: This is the kind of find I live for. The vocals on the first track are retarded, in the best sense of the word. I adore crazy, off-putting vocals, and “Miss Donnithorne’s Maggot” has all the ridiculous histrionics I could ever hope for, including hiccoughs. The jilted, recluse mezzo-soprano rants among the destroyed remains of her wedding cake with nothing more than an alto flute to keep her company. This is totally insane modern opera, and I love it. What drew me to this release, however, was the second track, because Julius Eastman is the featured baritone. I know Eastman’s work from his celebrated, posthumously-released Unjust Malaise. I’ve never heard a baritone sing so high! The range of this piece covers five octaves. Based on the words of mad King George III, this composition pulls no punches in demonstrating and expressing groaning, screeching, wailing, stuttering insanity. The piccolo flits around the vocalist’s head, tormenting him, like mocking birds. When the percussion (complete with railway whistle, wood blocks, tambourine, wind chimes, and glockenspiel) swells, you feel like the king is taking his madness on progress with him.

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