I wasn’t able to make it to either of Eighth Blackbird’s recent performances at the Museum of Contemporary Art, where the program featured a couple of pieces from composer David Lang‘s recent recording Death Speaks (Cantaloupe). Singer Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), guitarist Bryce Dessner (the National), and pianist Nico Muhly all appear on the new album, a song cycle that imagines death as a character, with compositional inspiration coming from the work of Franz Schubert. But after finally getting a chance to hear the recording, I’m ruing that I missed those MCA events even more.
Lang studied more than 600 Schubert songs and isolated the ones that include text personifying death; he then translated the words and recast certain fragments in his own writing, a five-part movement featuring Worden’s gorgeous, tremulous voice—at once ethereal and forceful. She’s supported by a gentle chamber trio featuring Muhly, Dessner, and violinist Owen Pallett. The CD concludes with the 18-minute piece “Depart,” a kind of soothing afterlife expression featuring the multitracked cello playing of Maya Beiser and four wordless vocalists. As I wrote above, I’ve heard the music only once, but its haunting beauty connected immediately. Below you can hear the first part of the work.