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Sessions: When Lilacs Last In The Dooryard Bloom'd / Ozawa

Release Date: 12/08/1992 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80296   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Roger Sessions
Performer:  Dominic CossaFlorence QuivarEsther Hinds
Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony OrchestraTanglewood Festival Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

None of Roger Sessions's music yields its secrets easily, to performer or listener. It needs careful and loving preparation if its constantly shifting foregrounds, middle-grounds and backgrounds are to be precisely judged and shaded; hastily or unsympathetically presented they can easily seem tangled and grey. The melodic language, too, especially in vocal music, can appear abrupt and disconnected. But even a recording as well rehearsed and conscientious as this one (it was made after several public performances, and the effort of getting throats and fingers accustomed to Sessions's manner is paying off in fluency and eloquence) needs patient and attentive listening. The use of recurring musical images (reflecting the three central emblems Read more of Whitman's poem—the sinking star, the sprig of lilac and the mourning thrush) will be obvious at a first hearing; so will the lyrical gravity of the eulogy of death in the final movement and the poignant appeal for the senses themselves to grieve at the beloved hero's passing (''what shall my perfume be, to adorn the grave of him I love?'') in the second. But the swift changes of Sessions's imagery take some getting used to, and his way of setting words certainly does.

On repeated listenings you gradually realize how very Whitmanesque his prosody is. His melodic lines are closely derived from speech, but it is American speech that was in his head. Words that would have been lyricized by such English admirers of Whitman as Delius, Holst or Vaughan Williams are hurried, swallowed or (to British ears) awkwardly stressed. There is a toughness to Sessions's utterance, a laconic quality that gives an angular grandeur to the evocation of New York (''Mighty Manhattan! with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides'') but does not make for ingratiating listening, for all its many incidental beauties.

With that solemn hymn to death and the shadowed delicacy of the thrush's music to hang on to, however, and the excellence of this performance as incentive I feel disposed to keep listening. Florence Quivar, in particular (she has the big solo in the last movement) gives the impression of knowing that she is singing great music, and the chorus, though a touch antiseptic in sound, are very accomplished. Ozawa, too, conducts as though he were among those who regard this work as Sessions's masterpiece. I could have done with a bit more space in the recorded perspective (the soloists are too close, and take on a sharpish edge at times) but I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know this impressive but difficult piece better.'

-- Michael Oliver, Gramophone [4/1989]
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Works on This Recording

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd by Roger Sessions
Performer:  Dominic Cossa (Baritone), Florence Quivar (Mezzo Soprano), Esther Hinds (Soprano)
Conductor:  Seiji Ozawa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra,  Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1971 
Date of Recording: 1977 
Venue:  Symphony Hall, Boston 
Length: 42 Minutes 8 Secs. 
Language: English 

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