Golijov is in danger of being priased for music that strikes me as glib and slick. The main work here, "Ocieana,' begins with a blatant appeal of pop taste: strumming guitars against a taped background of waves softly lapping the shore. I can't consider this a serious effort. The subsequent chorale parts hark back to Golijo's breakthrough work, the St. Mark Passion, with various Latin rhythms and lots of shouting in the manner of uncultivated folk singing. It's an idiom that he has taken to the bank a few times too often. If you listen past the sound effects and the atmospheric jazz singing by soloist Luciana Souza (which is set to run-of-the-mill Brazilian riffs), it's hard to hear what the shouting is about except for the desperation among classical record companies to manufacture a crossover hit.
Matters improve musically in the second half of the program. Golojov's strength lies in somber moodmaking and plaintive vocal lines based on klezmer, Sephardic, and NOrth African sources. We get the mournful part in Tenebrae, a two-movement elegy for string quartet. It's quite conservative compared with similar efforts from Ligeti, Lutoslawski, and others, but the arching melodic ines feel sincere and bring moving results.
I was waiting, however, for the three songs that end the CD, having heard a smapling here in Santa Fe two summers ago. Dawn UPshaw has proved to be Golijov's greatest champion, and here again she captures his mournful tone beautifully. All three songs are on the high level of Upshaw's last Golijov release, Ayre. The powerful symphonic music that accompanies the songs is conducted with commitment by Robert Spano. As stand-alones, these songs fully deserve five stars, and yet I wonder how such a capable composer can be satisfied with semi-junk like Oceana.