From the Philadelphia Inquirer, March 5, 1977

Amram work on Indians puts cap on Bicen

By Daniel Webster
Inquirer Music Critic

David Amram rounded off the Bicentennial observance here when his orchestral songs, "The trail of Beauty" were premiered Thursday by the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academy of Music.

The work was commissioned by the Rittenhouse Square Women's Committee of the orchestra as a tribute to the late oboist Marcel Tabuteau. And true to the aim of this commission, Amram has written orchestral songs for oboe and mezzo-soprano.

His inspiration was a challenging one for the Bicentennial, for he took Indian ritual music, prayers, songs and even a piece of Chief Seattle's moving speech, "Every part of this soil is sacred." Those texts and musical materials ask listeners to think of the civilization that was destroyed by those of us whose government has survived a mere two centuries on the same soil.

It is not, of course, an angry polemic any more than it is a complex cerebration in musical materials. Indian music, for all its rhythmic and melodic subtleties, maintains the sound of plainness and direct statement.

And Amram's style is intensely lyrical, long-lined and rooted in tonality. The unusual combination of oboe and voice is a constant that flows through the varied orchestra sounds, the authentic Indian music and the composed native idiom.

The oboe - played by John de Lancie with elegance and projection - unifies the 30-minute work with its return to intervals of descending fourths and fifths. The haunting resonance of the oboe is used here to suggest some quality removed by time, the spirits that Chief Seattle said would remain to haunt the cities and farms.

Technically, the writing for oboe is straightforward. Amram's style is lyrical and flatters the inherent singing quality of the instrument. The virtuosity required is the skill of song, of expression and of finding balances with the voice and the text.

Rose Taylor, who sang the four songs, was troubled here and there by pitch in unusual intervals, but her singing was infused with emotion and intensity. Her low range fit the somber message she sang and she was alert to the role of the oboe in weaving the mood.


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