There are some odd things going on in DC and it's not just the politics. `The Hunting of the Shark' by Maurice Saylor and performed by the Cantate Chamber singers, the Holton-Arms Lower School Chorus (under Gisele Becker) with the Snark Pit-band, is probably one of the quirkiest CDs I've ever come across -all in a good way.
First of all it's not Schoenberg's `Moses and Aaron'--I'm glad we got that out of the way! The work is a kinda Oratorio/Setting/Theater piece of Lewis Carol's eight-movement, epic, nonsense poem. The psychedelic craziness in the text is perfect for the schizophrenia of the music.
The music. Let's start with a vaudeville pit orchestra playing faux Gilbert and Sullivan. Then add a bit of Sondheim and Britten to the harmony and orchestration. Add even harsher Kurt Weil bite to certain bits and occasional go off in a flight of Swantner/Rouse/Torke. Then swing way back the other way to dinner theatre music (a lot of the text being set in a cappella single rhythm choral declamation) or ohing and ahing reminiscent of `Gone with the Wind' or the `Wizard of Oz' and that pretty much sums it up. But it's all really well done --very fresh, surprising and always entertaining. Saylor has a really gifted melodic sense, always pushing the music along at 100 miles an hour, adding clever transitions and orchestral effects throughout. It's weirdly never pastiche though that's exactly what it is!!!
In fact, the glue that really holds it all together convincingly is the orchestration. Besides lots of subtly in the doublings and harmonies, he adds lots of grit with whistles, kazoos, accordion, harmonica and banjo--all very disarming. The other `glue' was the playing by the orchestra, which was obviously well rehearsed, and there were only a couple of intonation clams (obviously not a huge budget for the recording, otherwise there would have been more takes.) The chorus was generally solid though there were more than a couple of smudged entries and intonation problems. But given the amount of text they had to get through (lots) they did a heroic job.
The second have of he CD is three silent movie soundtracks utilizing a greatly reduced orchestra. The music is not really 20's music again, as there are many things about it that are post-silent movies. But that is what makes it interesting. It is all very evocative in its depiction of what is ever on the screen with lots of contrasting sections and again a very strong melodic sense. I felt in general the orchestration was not as imaginative as the Lewis Carol setting or took as many nutty stylistic departures. The playing though was again superb.
Pick up this CD. It's more than just a novelty, but an adventure down a musical, stylistic rabbit hole.