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Griffes: Vocal Music / Sherrill Milnes, Jon Spong


Release Date: 12/08/1992 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80273   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Charles Tomlinson Griffes
Performer:  Sherrill MilnesJon SpongOlivia StappDiane Richardson,   ... 
Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony OrchestraNew World Chamber Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 54 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884–1920) is best known, if he is known at all outside the United States, for two attractive and accomplished orchestral mood-pieces, the elegantly Gallic The white peacock and the gorgeously colourful, Franco-Russian-with-exotic-trimmings Pleasure-dome of Kubla Khan. As my adjectival cluster indicates, Griffes's short career is usually discussed in terms of a rapid succession of influences: first Brahms (he was trained in Germany), then Debussy, then a bizarre mixture of Celtic twilight, orientalism and Russian ballet (with an interest in American Indian music thrown in for good measure) … and then, so the story usually goes, he died, greatly talented but still searching for a personal voice.

His
Read more Brahmsian phase is represented here by the four early songs to Gerrnan texts. They are plainish, ironed-out, strophic Brahms, but their very plainness suggests (wisdom after the event of hearing the rest of this collection) a developing melodic gift strong enough to make itself heard through the superficial trappings of quasiimpressionism, quasi-Borodin and the rest. In fact most of the adjectives that immediately spring to mind on hearing Griffes's music soon come to seem unsatisfactory. 'Debussyan', maybe, but despite the transparency of some of his scoring and a fondness for whole-tone scales and cleverly used pedal ostinatos you would never actually mistake him for Debussy for more than an isolated moment or so. The same goes for 'Delian' (some lovely passages of orchestral colouring), 'Sibelian' (a certain darkness to the palette at times) and 'Straussian' (the opulent vocal lines of the Fiona Macleod songs). Until we can hear Griffes's reputedly much more 'advanced' Piano Sonata and the late piano preludes we shall not know whether a truly individual voice ever did emerge, but the poised delicacy of the Tone-pictures (Debussy writing for chamber ensemble with a little help from Zemlinsky and Frank Bridge is the closest I can get to describing them; not very close, I agree) suggests a remarkable but unfocused gift at last finding a way forward. But the Tone-pictures (at least in their original version for piano) are actually earlier than the luxuriantly late-romantic Macleod songs; and anyhow, what in the world was a cosmopolitan-minded American doing setting Fiona Macleod, of all poets in 1918 (the author of the accompanying booklet seems unaware, by the way, that 'Fiona Macleod' was a man)? If it comes to that, what was Griffes doing writing a big, bold and wildly over-the-top latter-day border-ballad in the manner of Loewe (Song of the dagger) as late as 1916, a decade after he left Germany, immediately before composing the (I quote from the booklet) ''uncompromisingly dissonant'' Piano Sonata? It is all most odd and confusing, but I ended my listening wanting to hear more of Griffes.

That booklet, by the way, discusses at length some works not included here while ignoring some that are, and this is not the only way in which the presentation is inadequate. No texts are provided, a great pity in the case of the German songs and the attractive Impressions, where Stapp's shrill tone-quality and impenetrable diction almost totally disguise the fact that she is singing in English. Milnes's words are much clearer and he is in stalwart voice, but he cannot or will not sing quietly (though in the ferocious Song of the dagger, to be sure, there is no call to). Bryn-Julson is the best of the singers and has the best of the songs: her purity of tone and line are an admirable foil to their luxuriance. There is good orchestral playing and the 12-year-old recording why the delay in crossing the Atlantic?—is mostly satisfactory (save for an odd patch of distortion in the Impressions). Worth sampling, and if there is a Vol. 2 on the way I look forward to it with curiosity.'

-- Michael Oliver, Gramophone [11/1988]
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Works on This Recording

1. An den Wind by Charles Tomlinson Griffes
Performer:  Sherrill Milnes (Baritone), Jon Spong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 1976 
Venue:  30th St Studio, CBS Records, New York 
Language: German 
2. Impressions (4) by Charles Tomlinson Griffes
Performer:  Olivia Stapp (Mezzo Soprano), Diane Richardson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 1976 
Venue:  30th St Studio, CBS Records, New York 
Length: 10 Minutes 49 Secs. 
3. Song of the Dagger by Charles Tomlinson Griffes
Performer:  Sherrill Milnes (Baritone), Jon Spong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 1976 
Venue:  30th St Studio, CBS Records, New York 
Length: 4 Minutes 38 Secs. 
4. Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Khan, Op. 8 by Charles Tomlinson Griffes
Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912; USA 
Date of Recording: 1976 
Venue:  Symphony Hall, Boston 
Length: 10 Minutes 32 Secs. 
Notes: Orchestrated: Griffes (1920) 
5. Poems (3), Op. 11: The Lament of Ian the Proud by Charles Tomlinson Griffes
Performer:  Phyllis Bryn-Julson (Soprano)
Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1918; USA 
Date of Recording: 1976 
Venue:  Symphony Hall, Boston 
Length: 11 Minutes 21 Secs. 
6. Tone Pictures (3) for Piano, Op. 5 by Charles Tomlinson Griffes
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New World Chamber Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911-1912; USA 
Date of Recording: 1976 
Venue:  30th St Studio, CBS Records, New York 
Length: 9 Minutes 50 Secs. 
7. Am Kreuzweg wird begraben by Charles Tomlinson Griffes
Performer:  Sherrill Milnes (Baritone), Jon Spong (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903-1911; USA 
Date of Recording: 1976 
Venue:  30th St Studio, CBS Records, New York 
Language: German 
8. Meeres Stille by Charles Tomlinson Griffes
Performer:  Jon Spong (Piano), Sherrill Milnes (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903-1911; USA 
Date of Recording: 1976 
Venue:  30th St Studio, CBS Records, New York 
Language: German 
9. Auf geheimem Waldespfade by Charles Tomlinson Griffes
Performer:  Jon Spong (Piano), Sherrill Milnes (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903-1911; USA 
Date of Recording: 1976 
Venue:  30th St Studio, CBS Records, New York 
Language: German 

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