Posts Tagged “Vocal”
Music of Mohammed Fairouz
- Tahwidah – Mellissa Hughes, soprano; David Krakauer, clarinet
- Chorale Fantasy – Borromeo String Quartet
- Native Informant – Rachel Barton Pine, violin
- Posh – Christopher Thompson, baritenor; Steven Spooner, piano
- For Victims – David Kravitz, baritone; Borromeo String Quartet
- Jebel Lebnan – Imani Winds
If you can’t tell by the star-studded cast of performers on this disc, a lot of people like performing the music of Mohammed Fairouz and with good reason. This Naxos release gathers recordings of some of Fairouz’s recent chamber works (only Tahwidah and Chorale Fantasy date before 2011). Overall, the music is focused and dramatic, emotively powerful, and full of rich harmonies and sumptuous melodies. Fairouz does wear his influences on his sleeve and his borrowings from the classical canon and Middle-Eastern traditions mix well into an authentic and unique voice. Chorale Fantasy, for example, sounds very much like the slower harmonic sections of Shostakovich’s 8th quartet pressed through a colander of Arabic modes.
Tahwidah for soprano and clarinet is a prime example of Fairouz’s emotional and lyrical style. On one level, the music is lithe and sensual and without reading the text I figured it was a juicy love song. The text, while rich with omnipresent love metaphors, is actually being spoken by a mother to her son at his funeral. A second listening brought out the darker and elegiac qualities while still resonating the ideas of eternal love.
The solo violin sonata Native Informant also collects moments of supreme elegy alongside playful and fiery energy. Each of the five movements maintains a specific character throughout and most of these characters are simple and straightforward. “Lyric Sketch” is just that. “Rounds” is a peppy and zippy Arabic dance. In “For Egypt,” Fairouz crafts a haunting and woeful piece. While “For Egypt” has the gravitas to end the piece, the last two movements liven things up a bit. “Scherzo” is a cosmopolitan blend of Arab-inspired tunes which morph into and out of Tin Pan Alley-inspired tunes. The last movement, “Lullaby of the ex-Soldat” is another slow lyrical movement with a plaintive arpeggio motive in the middle. And of course Rachel Barton Pine sounds amazing throughout (I have yet to hear her play otherwise).
Vocal music is also served up on this disc. The brief song cycle Posh takes three poems from Wayne Kostenbaum’s collection Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films: “Ballade of the Layette,” “Blue Sea Songs,” and “Posh.” Of the three, my hands-down favorite is “Blue Sea Songs” which centers on a dreamt collection of Ned Rorem songs. Fairouz does a great Rorem impersonation (musically, anyway, I don’t know about personal). While Rorem-via-Fairouz is delightful, Fairouz’s own language serves the voice well with harmonic and orchestrational support. Christopher Thompson earns the fach “baritenor” well with a deep, rich, and powerful lower range and a light, floating, unstrained high register. For Victims is darker, thicker, and more intensely dramatic. David Kravitz navigates the David Shapiro text quite well and the blend between Kravitz and the Borromeo String Quartet is well done.
The final work on the disc is the colorful and charming Jebel Lebnan for wind quintet performed by the Imani Winds (again, when have they ever sounded less than amazing?). Each of the short character pieces, inspired by events from the Lebanese Civil War, is richly orchestrated and uses color and rhythm to their maximum. The spiky and chunky “Bashir’s March” shows obvious Stravinsky influence. The solo flute “Interlude: Nay” is the perfect transition into the bassoon solo which begins “Lamentation: Ariel’s Song.” “Dance and Little Song” try to be cheerful but have a dark and moribund underlayer that keeps the music from being truly joyous. The last movement, “Mar Charbel’s Dabkeh” closes off the disc with another Arab-inspired round dance.
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Song from the Uproar
Abigail Fischer and the NOW Ensemble
New Amsterdam Records
- Abigail Fischer – Isabelle Eberhardt
- Celine Mogielnicki, Amelia Watkins, Kate Maroney, Tomas Cruz, and Peter Stewart (other voices)
- Sara Budde, clarinet & bass clarinet
- Logan Coale, double bass
- Mark Dancigers, electric guitar
- Michael Mizrahi, piano
- Alexandra Sopp, flute & piccolo
- Steven Osgood, conductor
Missy Mazzoli’s opera Song from the Uproar is proof positive that opera is alive and well in the world. A true 21st century production incorporating a lean number of performers and simple yet hauntingly effect electronics, Song from the Uproar also draws upon the basic core of operatic storytelling: expressive emotional content. While the musical foundation of Song from the Uproar is postminimalism, Mazzoli’s music has a gloriously expressive surface to pair with Uproar’s rhythmic/harmonic engines.
The opera works exceedingly well as one continuous hour-long work but the piece also breaks into component “numbers” rather nicely. I have found myself listening to “You Are the Dust” quite a lot, actually, with its gorgeous melodic line, pulsating electric guitar delay and high double bass. Abigail Fischer’s voice on this particular track, and throughout the whole opera, has a dense mournful quality. Fischer’s sound is as complex as her character. There is a lot of heavy drama in the story and it would be easy to focus on the bleak and mopey tragedies Isabelle Eberhardt experienced. Fortunately, Mazzoli is a lot smarter than that. The excitement Eberhardt felt on her adventures spawned moments like “I Have Arrived,” a mostly instrumental segment brimming with bright and infectious energy. Mazzoli treats the small ensemble of flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, electric guitar, double bass, and piano in such a way that maximizes color and sonic potential. You’d swear that there are a lot more people playing. Mazzoli has worked with NOW before and that familiarity with their sound pays off well. Similarly, musical ideas in Song from the Uproar have been explored by Mazzoli before in other pieces. One such example is that the final scene of the opera appears as “The Diver” on Victoire’s Cathedral City album. The time and attention Mazzoli has put into crafting this opera shows.
I went ahead and got one of the “Deluxe Limited Editions” available from Mazzoli’s Bandcamp page. The whole package includes the complete libretto with additional imagery from filmaker Stephen S. Taylor and a DVD, not of a staged performance, but rather an abstract accompanying film also created by Taylor. Taylor uses old black-and-white film to create a sort of “visual sense memory” of Eberhardt’s life and world. A sample of this footage can be found in the video for “You Are the Dust.” I enjoyed the progression of visual imagery as it evolved throughout the opera and Taylor’s choices flexed between “on the nose” and “abstractly poetic” in a compelling way. Still, I want a video of a fully staged performance of Song from the Uproar. It deserves one.
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death speaks performed by: Shara Worden (vocals), Bryce Dessner (guitar), Owen Pallett (violin), Nico Muhly (piano)
depart performed by: Maya Beiser (multi-tracked cello), Elizabeth Farnum, Katie Geissinger, Alexandra Montano, and Alex Sweeton (voice)
For my ears, one of most striking features of David Lang’s music is its austerity. I have heard interviews with Lang where he speaks about eschewing a specific emotional context for his music and writing music in which the listener provides their own unique emotional response to the work. In other words, Lang tries not to manipulate the listener directly but rather create an aural space in which the listener affects themselves via the music. How well does that tactic work with such an emotionally charged idea as “death speaks?” Quite well, indeed.
The text for the five movements are all drawn from Schubert lieder in which Death speaks to the living. Lang translated the text and worked it to meet his needs as he did with Little Match Girl Passion a few years back. Shara Worden’s voice rides the edge of emotional detachment by giving just the slightest hints of tenderness. Worden’s voice is a testament to “complexity through simplicity.” She does not sing overtly virtuosic melodies; the overall shape of her lines is fairly static but she embues each phrase with subtle power and resonance. Lang’s sparse but constant instrumental textures are extremely colorful and provide a great balance between stasis and activity. The second movement, “I hear you” has vigorous bass accents but otherwise the music simply floats and drifts in consistent yet irregular clouds.
depart achieves the same affectless-affect as death speaks but adds a wonderful edge of tension via the sustained harmonies. Beiser’s cello is omnipresent through the veil of detached voices and as the harmonies build, tension mounts. At times, Lang sits on dominant-functioning harmonies but not once is such a chord resolved in a conventional manner. Lang holds your hand through the build-up of harmonic tension and walks you to the Precipice of Expected Resolution. Once staring over the cliff, though, Lang backs slowly away through a different route and leaves you (or me, anyway) feeling bewildered. But the music keeps going and I’m following him towards the precipice again…
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music of David T. Little
David Adam Moore, Newspeak, Todd Reynolds
David T. Little’s Soldier Songs is one of the most exciting recordings I have experience in 2013 and while the year is yet young I am confident this disc is going to stay in the cultural consciousness for the foreseeable future. Broken into three large sections (Child, Warrior, and Elder), Little has crafted a song cycle of a grand scope. The complicated and contradictory emotions involved with serving in the military is a topic that many have approached and this recording handles it all with bewildering perfection. Little’s music is intensely dramatic and emotional without becoming histrionic or sentimental and while this work has a distinct point of view, its message(s) are far from simple propaganda.
David Adam Moore’s voice is riveting throughout the disc as he transforms through the various stages (physically and emotionally) via his subtle and nuanced performance. Moore is called upon to sing falsetto, shout, and growl and does all of these things with powerful musical abilities.
Musically and emotionally, Soldier Songs does everything right. Little’s craft coupled with Moore’s abilities and Newspeak’s tight and precise energies join together into a particularly resonant work. The libretto, adapted from interviews with veterans, provides haunting and realistic vignettes about being on the ground during war time.
Overall, this piece, this performance, taps into Truth. The music is a vehicle for a larger message but one that is too complicated for words alone. This is a fantastic disc, released today.
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The Mimesis Ensemble
Scott Dunn, conductor
- Mabrouka: Jo Ellen Miller
- Asakir: Rachel Calloway
- Sumeida: Robert Mack
- Alwan: Mischa Bouvier
Sumeida’s Song, Mohammed Fairouz’s first opera, is based on the play Song of Death by Tawfiq al-Hakim. This story of a young man returning home and facing a long-standing family feud was adapted by Fairouz, as well, and the relatively plain language does well at communicating the major plot points. The music is very Stravinskian with punctuated orchestral rhythms, little ostinato figures, and slightly boxy tonal mechanics. The growth of microtonal colors in the third scene, however, is rather refreshing and engaging. I was surprised at the overall lack of ethnic-derived music given that the Egyptian setting and culture are strongly tied to the plot. I’m not asking for cliches or tastelessness, of course, but the relatively unspecific music suggests that the story could be happening anywhere. I suspect that the musical intent might be to make the story more of a generalize parable (since the story of sacrificing oneself for peace is a relatively universal ideal).
While Sumeida is in the title, this opera belongs to Rachel Calloway as Asakir. Present in almost every scene, this opera seems to be so much more about her than the title character but the libretto never really generates any sympathy for her. Calloway’s rich and powerful tone sounds like it has potential for great tenderness and nuance but the tone of this particular character never gets away from “angry evil shrew.” Her character’s edge is always present in her voice, never giving way to softness, and I would have enjoyed hearing Calloway’s dark sound in a more soothing melodic ground.
Overall, the music is a chain of solos with almost no ensemble singing whatsoever. I found most of the melodic lines emotionally flat with few resonating moments. Alwan’s lines “I won’t kill” towards the end of the second scene are punctuated with highly traditional harmonic cadences, for example. The ensuring argument builds up has wild energy and vibrant orchestration, I just find the drama uncompelling. This is always difficult when listening to an opera (instead of seeing it). All the motions that are happening on the stage could do much to heighten the impact.
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- Hurdle Rate
- Professional Smile
- Hardwired Superstition
- Dumb Young
- Side Pockets
- Orson Elvis
- Redemption Fee
- The Movie We’re In
- Words are Missing
- Prosperity Gospel
- Sky Sprites
- Thumb Skills
- Make Her Won
- Blow Dried Bodies
- The Next World
- The Albany Handshake
- God Said No
- Face Around
- Come From Money
Mikel Rouse has done it again. Today the two album set Boost/False Doors is released and once again both albums deliver powerful and unique listening experiences which couldn’t be created by anyone else. Last time Rouse released two albums simultaneously, Recess and Corner Loading Vol. 1, those albums were treated as separate entities and for good reason. While both discs capture quintessential aspects of Rouse’s musical vocabulary, each album obsessed on totally unrelated issues. It was as if there were two Mikel Rouses for a while, each doing their own thing. Boost and False Doors, being packaged together, show how these two halves are gradually being brought back together. Each disc is a world in and of itself but these two different halves are binding with each other. The glue is Rouse’s omnipresent steel guitar.
Boost is the manic dance-party side of Rouse’s nature. Tight beats and crisp percussive sounds provide the foundation for his vocal layers of “counterpoetry.” Melodically, tracks shift between catchy sung tunes and spoken word. In many ways, the musical language is similar to Dennis Cleveland but updated to more contemporary dance music aesthetics and production values. There is an oblique narrative through-line as one might expect from a song cycle but what mainly catches my ear is the frenetic beat energy. The opening thoughts in “Hurdle Rate” draw you in quickly and I’m also partial to “Side Pockets” as a great stand-alone track.
No matter how the melodies float by, no matter how the harmonies freely drift, Rouse’s beat creation skills are the star of the show. I’m reluctant to call them “grooves” since Boost is driven and propulsive, never lazy and funky. Even slower-paced moments like the opening of ”Orson Elvis” don’t dally long before beats take over. There is still a lightness to this disc, though, and these beats are clearly more than simple loops. Rouse’s metrical/rhythmical bag of tricks has been compressed into these crisp metallic pulses. He makes the stuff they play in dance clubs sound even more shallow and lifeless than it already does.
Everything that Boost is, False Doors is not. This is not to say that False Doors is in any way inferior. On the contrary, I listen to this album significantly more frequently than Boost. The pacing of this disc is slower and more contemplative which suits my own personal tastes. “Sky Sprites” is especially striking with a singular guitar lick that punctuates his sung melody (this lick returns in a most perfect way in “Come From Money”). In comparison to Boost, events are drawn out and repeated more obsessively. The poetry in the lyrics is more raw and plainspoken. “God Said No,” for instance, sounds a bit like Rouse is channeling a lost Simon and Garfunkel song with his own peculiar lyrical slant. A song like “Thumb Skills” sets you up lyrically but then twists the expectations ever-so slightly for more dramatic weight.
The opening track “Words are Missing” sounds like a direct outgrowth to the phasing techniques featured on Corner Loading. If Corner Loading was Rouse’s most spartan work, False Doors adds in just the right parts of what he had taken away. “Homegoings” is also just a perfect microcosm of everything that makes Rouse’s music what it is.
Should these be two separate releases? I don’t think so. Recess and Corner Loading were two clearly separated bits of work. Boost and False Doors represent these two parts of Rouse’s music coming back together. Boost is young people’s music: quirky dance beats (my daughter prefers Boost) yet Rouse’s steel guitar gives a slightly folky/country tinge to it all. False Doors is more adult: the music is more about contemplation and nostalgia. Many of the songs sound almost too personal to hear. Again, the guitar provides the soulful through-voice to it all. Any way you hear these two discs, each disc relies on the other to create a complete picture, though, and that picture is completely worth your time.
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Monica Harte, soprano
Long Island Songs
songs by George Brunner, Tom Cipullo, Christian Mcleer, and Anne Dinsmore Phillips
- Long Island Songs by Tom Cipullo
- Three Japanese Songs by George Brunner
- See the Lilies of the Field by Anne Dinsmore Phillips
- In Remembrance of Me by Anne Dinsmore Phillips
- Why Faith Abides by Anne Dinsmore Phillips
- No Bird Soars too High by Anne Dinsmore Phillips
- Three Light Pieces by Christian McLeer
- Longing Eternal Bliss by Christian McLeer
Monica Harte brings her bright clarion voice to several short song cycles on this MSR disc. Tom Cipullo’s Long Island Songs maintain a solid harmonic palette by using plenty of textural changes that keep the collection sounding fresh. The serious “Invocation” is followed by a rigorous and busy “The Odor of Pear.” The third song, “The Nesconset of Crickets” is sparse and brief, leading seamlessly into the more traditionally narrative “The Crane at Gibb’s Pond.”
Three Japanese Songs by George Brunner are wonderfully small gems of text setting and mood creation. The melodic line floats and twists in the air over extremely spartan piano touches. Most of the piano writing is monophonic, working in counterpoint with the featured melodic line. The longest of the three is still under two minutes long but each does such a fantastic job of capturing the poetry that I am never left wanting. This is the only piece in which the composer is not the pianist; Noby Ishida does much with the understated part.
Christian McLeer’s two collections are charming and lyrical. Harmonies can be very straightforward or a bit more intriguing and he carefully balances the textures of his accompaniment to not interfere with the vocal line. The four songs by Anne Dinsmore Phillips are much more conservative in taste. The voice sings a melody, the piano accompanies with traditional harmonies. There are few surprises in either melody or harmony and they left me with the impression that I’d heard them before but they don’t leave a lasting impression.
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sweet light crude
New Amsterdam Records
listen to the album online here
- Oscar Bettison: B&E (with aggravated assault)
- Stefan Weisman: I Would Prefer Not To
- David T. Little: sweet light crude
- Missy Mazzoli: In Spite of All This
- Pat Muchmore: Brennschluß
- Caleb Burhans: Requiem for a General Motors in Janesville, WI
Caleb Burhans, violin; Mellissa Hughes, voice; James Johnston, piano, synth, organ; Taylor Levine, guitar; David T. Little, director, drums; Eileen Mack, co-director, clarinets; Brian Snow, cello; Yuri Yamashita, percussion.
The amplified and politically-charged ensemble Newspeak puts its best feet forward in their first album. First we fall victim to Oscar Bettison’s B&E (with aggravated assault), showing what happens when Cheating, Lying, Stealing grows up, smokes PCP, grabs a crowbar, and heads out lookin’ for a good time. The aggressive and driving texture abates a bit but maintains a strained and tense tone throughout. The work starts strong and escalates towards a speed-metal influenced frenzy of epic proportions. A double pedal on the kick drum sounds mandatory for performance. B&E is a raw and visceral experience but it also showcases the ensemble’s blend and cohesion in a remarkable way.
Newspeak is not a one-trick pony. Stefan Weisman’s I Would Prefer Not To, influenced by “Bartleby the Scrivener,” is as trance-inducing as B&E was spleen-venting. Mellissa Hughes restricts her voice for a perfect blend with the glassy sound world and detached affect present in the piece. The title track of the disc, David T. Little’s sweet light crude, also features Ms. Hughes’ vocal talents but this time she is able to open her instrument up more with a more full and expressive sound. This love song hits all the marks one would expect from a Broadway rock opera except that its subject is oil. I find the aesthetic crosses a toe over the line of cheesy a few too many times for my taste but the overall package is attractive and engaging.
One of the great unifying features of this disc, and Newspeak in general, is their political message. I don’t mean that you should listen to their music because of their political message, but rather that Newspeak is making music that is relevant to today’s topics and tastes. Sometimes the political message is overt, as in sweet light crude, but other times the messages are more oblique and open to interpretation. The focus is primarily on great art as opposed to propaganda.
In Spite Of All This hinges on a repetitive sigh figure in the violin while the ensemble springs to life and recontextualizes the solo. Caleb Burhans breathes exquisite emotional life into the line, making it always sound like an organic entity no matter how many times we hear it. Missy Mazzoli’s compositional voice is strong and I find this piece more attractive every time I listen to it.
Pat Muchmore’s toccata Brennschluß captures the energy of a firing rocket as well as the feeling of something hanging weightless in the atmosphere. Ensemble blend is again at a premium here in both the rough and prickly rhythmic sections and the smoother floating moments. Mellissa Hughes’ voice crafts this work into a rugged and tightly constructed monodrama influenced by a certain amount of thrash metal.
The final track, Requiem for a General Motors in Janesville, WI, directs the ensemble towards the sullen and morose. The electric guitar is the dominant melodic voice and Taylor Levine transmits the mood in exemplary fashion. The musical language is more “crossover-friendly” for lack of a better term. Tonality is in play, the sad mood is directly communicated, and it is easy to mentally picture workers leaving the plant for the last time. The piece ends with an unresolved feeling, almost inviting you to loop the CD and start over (which I usually do).
This is not a collection of composers and composer/performers writing posthumously but instead a gathering of topical works in an unabashedly contemporary language. I have no doubt that, as Newspeak continues to pursue this path, the works that come out will be works that endure. Groups like Newspeak make me laugh in the face of the “Classical Music Dead” folks.
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Corner Loading (Volume 1)
- Active Denial
- (Running Out of Time for) Good News
- My Tide
- Made Up, Oh Lord
- Busy Humanist
- Be Real Bad
- Trouble Making
- Lonesome Shoeshine
- Great Adventure Jail
- Hide in There
- It’s Hard to be Nobody
- Ad Man
The second half of ExitMusic’s 10th anniversary celebration, Corner Loading (Volume 1), will be released on December 7 alongside the album Recess (my review of Recess can be read here). Where Recess lives and breathes with Rouse’s density and complexity, Corner Loading is a lean, mean, stripped-down exploration of his musical core. The musical language, on the surface, sounds like a fairly straight-ahead country/blues singer/songwriter but as soon as you listen past that surface you are rewarded with an intimate portrayal of what makes Rouse’s music really tick.
Each song features Rouse as a solo performer, usually voice and guitar, so at first listening Corner Loading sounds like something you can comfortably put on in your local coffee shop. The only problem with that scenario is that this isn’t passive music. Rouse’s language has a way of focusing your attention the same way that a magician makes you wonder how it is all being done. The layers which Rouse usually uses are right there in Corner Loading but in a much more transparent package. It is easier to hear deep into the musical structures of this recording and that exposed nature makes the disc even more hypnotic to me. You hear exactly what he is doing and it still fascinates and draws you closer into the music. If this was on in a coffee shop I don’t think I could do much but sit and listen in slack-jawed fascination.
An example of this elegant simplicity hits you right up front with the track “Active Denial.” Rouse sings the line “Maybe I want to do it again” in melodic and rhythmic unison with the guitar. He then repeats the lick on the guitar but inserts a single beat rest in the voice between phrases shoving the voice out of phase with the guitar ostinato. Even better, instead of keeping this phase process as a gimmick for the song, Rouse finds important times to stretch out his melodic line by a beat so he can come back in phase with the guitar for the chorus.
This phasing procedure gets used throughout the disc but in enough deft variations that no track sounds stale. Regular and irregular phrases are spun out in a natural manner. Accompaniment patterns change and break up any possibile monotony. A few tracks, like “My Tide” and “Great Adventure Jail” are accompanied by simple clapping (which isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds). Great care has also been taken towards the pacing of the CD. The more repetitive songs “Be Real Bad” and “Trouble Making” are followed up by the quick-fire verses of “Lonesome Shoeshine.” Songs are very short and focused. They create their world, do it very well, and then get out. Tension is also built throughout the disc, too. The final track “Ad Man” has the thickest and most frenetic guitar texture and the most driving harmonica interjections which makes this song sound like a culmination of all that came before it.
Rouse’s husky vocals are expressive and perfectly matched for this sound world. There is soul and emotion in each track. Rouse’s gift in lyrics is also spread all over the songs. Unlike Recess, Corner Loading doesn’t include the lyrics in the physical disc (they are available on his website) but this never troubled me. The intimacy of the disc makes the lyrics and their poetic meanings rather clear. His ruminations on the current societal conditions are just as targeted, poetic, and salient as you would expect.
The whole disc has an immediate appeal that I find runs throughout all of Rouse’s music and there is not an ounce of pretention on the record. This is a disc I spin a lot. Beyond the deep post-minimalist structure that is driving each song, the tunes are just damned catchy.
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The Complete Songs, Volumes I and II
The Florestan Recital Project
“I found [composing with and for electronics] boring and predictable – speakers cannot stand up to acknowledge applause. In electronic music everything is fixed, permanently. I missed presenting a score to a creative performer with the hope that he would take the piece into his own personality.”
One of the unexpected pleasures of reviewing the songs of the late Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006) was discovering his candid and engaging personality. That’s always a boon for the writer desperately in search of a “lead” to begin his review. Pinkham provides the critic numerous literary gems of that sort. In his long career he set his hand at it all: symphonies, cantatas, concertos, oratorios, and chamber music for a great variety of instrumental combinations, embracing means as diverse as medieval modes and plainchant, dodecaphony, serialism, and electronic music. One gets the feeling from listening to Volumes I and II of the Florestan Project’s Complete Songs project that song had a special significance for Pinkham, something to which he returned time and again over the years. It all fits in with his love of writing with a specific occasion and his love of contact with the singers and instrumentalists: “I have no unperformered music.”
Volume I of the present series embraces settings of poems by such as A E Houseman, Emily Dickinson, and particularly James Wright (1927-1980), with whose poetry Pinkham’s music formed a close, personal correlative. Wright was influenced by both Robert Frost and Thomas Hardy, both of whom he resembled in the denseness and exuberance of his imagery. We find this quality particularly in Pinkham’s settings from The Green Wall and Where Love Has Gone, both sung here by Joe Dan Harper, accompanied by guitarist Jim Piorkowski in the former and pianist Anne Kissel Harper in the latter. I normally don’t like settings of free verse (which Frost once compared to playing tennis without the net) because they tend to result in too much sameness resulting from the heightened declamation that is inevitable when the composer doesn’t have meter or rhyme to relate to. These are more palatable than most, owing largely to the imagination residing in Wright’s images: “The kind of poetry I want is my love / who comes back with the rain. Oh, I / would love to lie down long days long, / the long / down slipping the gown from her / shoulders.”
The handful of Dickinson poems in Called Home require, and receive, more cadenced settings in keeping with the poet’s use of liturgical cadence and clipped expression: “Promise this – When you be Dying – / Some shall summon Me – / Mine belong your latest Sighing – / Mine – / to Belt your Eye – / Not with Coins – though they be Minted / From an Emperor’s Hand – / Be My Lips – the only Buckle – / Your low eyes demand.” And of course, Dickinson’s preoccupation with death finds expression in all five poems in the series, providing a rare degree of unity: “Some, too fragile for winter winds / The thoughtful grave encloses – / Tenderly tucking them in from frost / Before their feet are cold.”
Tenor Joe Dan Harper and baritone Aaron Engebreth alternate the vocal assignments in Volume II, which consist of settings of Psalms, other Scriptural Sources, and poems with religious significance in their imagery by such olden poets as Henry Vaughn, George Herbert, Robert Herrick, Thomas Campion, George Wither and Sir Philip Sydney, with Emily Dickinson’s whimsical “Angels at Play” and the robust exuberance of Gerard Manley Hopkins thrown in for a change of pace: “Bring hither pearl, opal, sard; / Reck not what the poor have lost; / Upon Christ throw all away; / Know ye this is Easter Day.” The various Psalms, wisdom literature Ruth, Ecclesiastes, and Letters of St. Paul and St. Ambrose in this Volume find perfect sound=sense correlation in Pinkham’s settings, which can be lyrical, meditative, or dramatic as the text requires. He captures to perfection the intimacy in so many of these texts. And the organ accompaniment by Heinrich Christensen is always sensitive to the mood and ambience of the song.
In short, the present 2-CD package is an ideal introduction to a composer who was to claim, “The single event that changed my life was a concert [at Andover] by the Trapp Family Singers in 1939, right after they had escaped from the Nazis. They had virginals, recorders, a gamba, and I had never heard anything like that in my life … Here, suddenly, I was hearing clarity, simplicity.” Coming at a time in history when the basic sound of western music, like it or not, was post-Wagnerian, it shaped Pinkham’s whole outlook on life and music.
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