Sindbad Reviews

Oxford Times

“…a startling and deeply interesting modern work….
“Meltzer’s ‘Sindbad’ was, in every possible sense, a knockout. Apart from anything else, it’s years since I heard a modern work which kept one laughing all the way through. This was a melodrama in the Victorian sense, with a virtuoso narrator (the actor Walter Van Dyk), declaiming ten short prose-poems by Donald Barthelme, in which he contrasts the traditional narrative of Sinbad the Sailor with a second character, a hopeless, ineffective American night-school teacher, the whole punctuated with telling (often powerful) interjections by the piano trio.

“Unlikely? But in Barthelme’s hands, this is the world of magic realism par excellence. And, in Meltzer’s, added musical magic (the penultimate Waltzes section was truly lovely). Tremendous stuff.”

— Hugh Vickers, Oxford Times, June 3, 2005


The Des Moines Register

“Next came the Midwest premiere of Harold Meltzer’s ‘Sindbad’ for piano trio and narrator. The composition, based on a short story by Donald Barthelme, features vignettes about the seafaring hero interspersed with those of a new character, a jaded night-school teacher who has been asked suddenly to teach a class during the day…. Barthelme’s fantastic story found a great match in Meltzer, who created a vivid, undulating backdrop of atonal music capturing the adventure, peril, irony, resignation and exasperation of the characters.”

— Ben Alloway, The Des Moines Register, April 11, 2005


The Birmingham News

“The literary theme continued with Harold Meltzer’s ‘Sindbad’. Meltzer, a Rome Prize winner, narrated the 10-movement work, which is based on a short story by Donald Barthelme in which an introverted night school teacher is forced to teach during the day. ‘It is true, the students asked me to leave,’ he utters in one line.
“Meltzer is as gifted an actor/narrator as he is a composer. Dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, he looked very much the part, spewing out the poignancy and humor of his profession (he lives in a room with a radio and a refrigerator on a table), his eccentricities and his fantasies. The trio accompaniment ranges from effervescent to reflective, illuminating the narrative without intruding or interrupting.”

— Michael Huebner, The Birmingham News (Alabama), January 11, 2009


Third Coast Digest

“The surreal comedy of Donald Barthelme’s Sindbad (1984) fit nicely with Harold Meltzer’s music Monday evening. Nathan Wesselowski recited the words and the Prometheus Trio played the notes.
“In nine exquisitely clever little chapters of prose verging on verse, Barthelme interweaves tales of the daring Sindbad with equally bizarre slices of the drab life of an adjunct and possibly unhinged professor of English. Meltzer, in attendance Monday, scored the recitation specifically and often left gaps for music that disrupted the flow of the text. Wesselowski had to count and come in exactly on time.

“That bothered me, at first; I was impatient to hear the rest of the story. But the disruptive rhythm of Meltzer’s approach felt more and more right as the piece went on. The herky-jerky rhythms, odd gestures, plinks, murmurings and exclamations from Stefanie Jacob’s piano, Scott Tisdel’s cello and Timothy Klabunde’s violin came to seem to pick up where the words left off. In particular, Meltzer’s music took on the role of the inchoate thoughts and feelings of Wesselowski’s increasingly agitated adjunct. The gestural, fragmented music is more illustrative, of stormy seas and the like, in the Sindbad chapters. When the washed-ashore adventurer hears a waltz from the tree line of an island, we hear a hint of a waltz through thickets of notes.

“The eternal problem with such narrator pieces is the impossibility of fully attending both music and words at the same time. That was the case through much of Sindbad. Meltzer created gaps and elbowed the music in, which helped. And in a cheeky move, Meltzer left the players tacet for a couple of chapters; he made us miss the music when it was gone. Then he reversed the psychology by reprising the music for “The Beaux-Arts Ball” with the words, alerting us to musical charms we missed the first time around. All in all, Sindbad, from 2004, is very smart and a lot of fun.”

— Tom Strini, Third Coast Digest (Milwaukee), February 12, 2013


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“Sindbad a delightful adventure for Prometheus Trio”
“The Prometheus Trio sailed into uncharted waters Monday evening, with delightful results.

“With instrumentation of violin, cello and piano, therefore known as a ‘piano trio,’ the trio’s stock in trade is the rich piano-trio literature, with occasional guest musicians broadening the repertoire.

“But Monday evening’s Wisconsin Conservatory of Music performance of Sindbad, a work for piano trio and narrator written by Harold Meltzer to text pulled from a short story by Donald Barthelme, took the trio out of the purely musical into the realm of the dramatic.

“Narrator Nathan Wesselowski took the spotlight with a reading of the ‘Sindbad’ text that gave distinct identity to the various characters that speak in the piece’s ten movement.

“He created a sympathetic, and somewhat pathetic, professor, a few of Sindbad’s snark ex-wives, and a colorful, third-person voices describing the larger-than-life exploits of the title character, using them to capture the pathos, wit and grand storytelling of the text.

“Wesselowski brought what proved to be absolutely necessary musical timing and flow to his rendition of the text. He treated the lines like musical phrases and added the perfect amount of theatrical panache (a withering look here, a grand gesture there and the occasional pointed raised eyebrow) to lines delivered from the podium.

“The trio accomapnied with the sensitivity of a seasoned chamber ensemble, providing musical connections and colorful underscoring for the narrations. Meltzer was on hand for the performance, taking a blow with the performers to hearty applause.”

— Elaine Schmidt, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, February 12, 2013


The San Francisco Chronicle

“But the gem of the disc is Sindbad, a witty and melancholic treatment of a Donald Barthelme story about a would-be hero who teaches literature at a community college. It’s a subtle and imaginative piece, and it gets a first-rate performance by the Peabody Trio with the great English bass-baritone John Shirley-Quirk as narrator.”
   — , The San Francisco Chronicle, October 31, 2010



“But pride of place goes to Sindbad, for narrator and piano trio. When I saw the title, I thought: What? A children’s piece? A fairy-tale fantasy? No, rest easy. The title is from the eponymous story by Donald Barthelme, the master of New York deadpan surrealism. Starting in full flower with the swashbuckling tale, it then suddenly veers into the first-person experience related by a timid professor, confronting students whose contempt for him is all too evident. Over time, it actually becomes clear that the entire text is speaking to the need of everyone to discover his/her own inner adventurer, and confront demons. But the message is never didactic, and the text has moments that are hysterically funny (at least to me, a professor). Meltzer’s music is unassuming but simultaneously fully in tune with the spirit of the text. It stands up as a parallel commentary, never serving as mere cues. John Shirley-Quirk embodies the double persona of the story with a plummy English accent, flamboyant at one moment, timid at the next. The genre of music with narration is one that has a checkered track record; this piece is a success.

“This is the music of a strong voice, mature and focused, but never tripping up on over-seriousness. It gets a reservation for possible Want List inclusion at year’s end.”
   — , Fanfare, Issue 34:4 Mar/Apr 2011


American Record Guide

“The longest piece on the recording, and the most interesting, is Sindbad (2004-5) for narrator and piano trio, based on a short story by Donald Barthelme that tells of a community college professor who always teaches at night and who is obsessed with Sindbad, the hero of Arab folklore. The professor is asked to teach some day classes as a substitute, and wrestles with gaining the acceptance and respect of the students. What sounds banal in description becomes something really quite wonderful and strange in this 10-movement work, not only by the brilliance of Barthelme’s writing, but by Meltzer’s perceptive music. It contains moments of surpassing beauty, moments where one is driven to stop and consider, to contemplate the play of meaning. The Peabody Trio does a fine job, and John Shirley-Quirk is magnificent.”
   — Ira Byelick, American Record Guide, March/April 2011



“Both sprechstimme and monodrama have, not entirely unfairly, gotten a reputation for sounding carbon-dated at best and often mawkish when not well-deployed. While Sindbad may not entirely allay these misgivings, Meltzer’s aforementioned talent for word-setting and a passionate performance by baritone (here as speaker) John Shirley-Quirk make a case for this hybridized musical/dramatic form. It certainly helps that the speaker is accompanied by such colorful and multifaceted music.”
   — Christian Carey, sequenza21, November 14, 2010