Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tori Amos: Night of Hunters

I neither make bones about nor apologies for my love of Tori Amos. I’ve been fascinated with her ever since “Little Earthquakes,” though like most favorite artists, have been sometimes as disappointed with her work as I’ve been pleased by it. I thoroughly loved her last big album “The Bee Keeper” and when I heard about her project for Deutsche Grammophon thought “it’s about time!” For Night of Hunters Amos created what’s being billed as “a 21st Century Song Cycle based on classical themes.” Indeed, Amos mined the classics – Bach, Schubert, Satie, Alkan, Schumann, et al. but the great masters are not merely quoted (most of the time anyway) but rather integrated as part of a whole package. It works brilliantly and beautifully.

Amos (like Streisand unlike Ronstadt) forgoes any attempt at trying to sound like a classically trained singer which, juxtaposed with the (mostly) “classical” style writing, adds an intriguing complexity to Hunters. With a chamber orchestra of strings, woodwinds, percussion and brass, Amos and her Bosendorfer wander through the sometimes artfully pretentious story she’s set to this music with far more finesse and assurance than most classical artists do when “slumming” it in the world of pop. The opening of the work, “Shattering Sea” (based on an Alkan prelude) invokes Prokofiev and Bartok as the piano duels violently with the orchestra. This combination aids in making Amos remarkably fresh sounding voice (at 48) sound at once both womanly yet perpetually waifish.

Taking place during the course of a single night Hunters bears a slight resemblance to Arnold Schoenberg’s Ewartung – thematically if not musically, though Amos’ text is a bit less obtuse though no less “arty” than the Schoenberg.

Natashya Hawley, Amos’s 11 year old daughter, does nice work on four of the numbers holding her own and every inch in sound at least, very much Mama’s girl.

Some of Amos’ strongest fans have been the most critical of this, but so far, critical reviews have been more than favorable. Not going unnoticed is a certain theatricality in all of this, which bodes well since Amos is in the midst of finishing her first musical theatre piece, “The Light Princess” (based on a 19th century folk tale about a flying princess) which is set to open in London early next year. Should be interesting!


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