SMIT: Beyond Circumference; Three Poems of Marcia Willieme; The Marigold Heart. Georgine Resick, soprano; Warren Jones, piano. Bridge 9227. 61 minutes.
Leo Smit’s (1921-1999) career as composer and pianist touched many of the mainstream trends of 20th century American music, and a good deal of Europe’s music as well. Towards the end of his life he became more and more focused on art songs, and art songs set to the poetry of Emily Dickinson in particular.
The result was Smit’s magnum opus, The Ecstatic Pilgrimage, a set of six song cycles of Dickinson’s verse. Each of the six cycles gathers together poems with common themes. This Bridge disc includes Cycle 4, Beyond Circumference (Eighteen Songs about Death, Faith and Immortality), and Cycle 5, The Marigold Heart (Fifteen Songs about Love, Loss and Renunciation).
Smit’s experience with Dickinson (annotator Nils Viegland writes about the composer’s “devotion to Dickinson and his obsessive preoccupation with her thinking and her life”) led him to write songs that embody an almost total identification between the music and words. Dickinson’s spare, imagistic, and enigmatic verse is tightly wedded to Smit’s settings, as if composer and poet had actually collaborated. The songs are short and to the point””the piano introductions briefly set the scene in terms of tonality, tempo, and mood before the singer enters and the words and music interpenetrate each other the rest of the way.
The music is tonal in mid-century American manner, and Smit’s rhythmic style is fluid. His writing for both the piano and the voice is exceptional. Both performers are given parts that allow them to shine, but the words and the musical partnership with the words is what always comes first.
The disc is rounded out with Smit’s Three Poems of Marcia Willieme, written after he had finished the Dickinson cycles. The poems are similar in tone to the Dickinson, their rhetoric more modern. Smit’s settings are sensitive and expressive.
Soprano Georgine Resick has a warm, American-sounding soprano voice, and her diction and phrasing are excellent. Every word comes through. Pianist Warren Jones is an able and sensitive accompanist. Bridge’s sound is just right for the material and the booklet is great””the texts are included and there are fascinating pictures of the composer and various colleagues.
Anyone interested in singing, the art song, and/or Emily Dickinson will find this an essential disc.