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Thomson: Feast Of Love; Harris, Griffes, Etc / Mann, Mason, Odense So


Release Date: 04/08/2008 
Label:  Bridge   Catalog #: 9254   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Virgil ThomsonHoratio ParkerJohn Alden CarpenterCharles Tomlinson Griffes,   ... 
Performer:  Patrick Mason
Conductor:  Paul Mann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Odense Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



AMERICAN ORCHESTRAL SONG Patrick Mason (bar); Paul Mann, cond; Odense SO BRIDGE 9254 (CD: 57:54 Text and Translation)


THOMSON The Feast of Love. CARPENTER Watercolors. HARRIS Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun. GRIFFES 5 Poems of Ancient Read more China and Japan. PARKER Cahál Mór of the Wine-Red Hand


This disc came as a complete surprise to me. I was unfamiliar with most of the repertoire, and likewise the singer. While I found the idea of American songs for voice and orchestra by these composers to be interesting, I would say that my expectations were sort of in the middle. I didn’t expect it to be awful, nor did I expect to be wowed. But wowed I was! This is a beautiful, varied, infinitely interesting disc that deserves great success in the crowded marketplace.


The only work I had heard before was Virgil Thomson’s The Feast of Love , recorded back in 1965 for Mercury by David Clatworthy with Howard Hanson and the Eastman Rochester Orchestra. The others are new to me, and if they have been recorded before they have escaped my attention, and are currently not available on any of the Internet sites I use.


I have written before that I have little use for the term “masterpiece,” never being quite sure what qualifies a work for that label. What I am tired of is the attitude, often promulgated by academics or critics, that we should only listen to “masterpieces” (which of course they define as works so labeled by themselves). I will therefore not claim that descriptor for anything here—but what I will claim is that every work on this disc repays repeated hearings with greater dividends, and brings deep pleasure to the listener. Bridge’s production, with superb performances and extremely informative notes by Thomas Riis, helps the music immensely.


Virgil Thomson’s music is often angular and folksy—but The Feast of Love is, in fact, more lyrical and delicate than is his norm. He wrote the work in 1964, translating from an ancient Latin set of verses Pervigilium Veneris (“Awaiting the Festival of Venus” is how the notes translate it), and his evocative setting is some of the most beautiful music of his I’ve ever encountered. John Alden Carpenter’s music was often jazz influenced (his orchestral work Skyscrapers is a perfect example), and so it is with Watercolors , a setting of Chinese verses. I do not hear too much pseudo-Orientalism here, but do hear some delicate jazz references as well as a puckishness and inventiveness that underline the texts beautifully.


Roy Harris was a major figure in American music, but maddeningly uneven. Some of his symphonies are first-rate, including the famous Third, and others seem like note spinning. Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun was written in 1959 and it may be one of the most important discoveries here (the Griffes cycle being the other). The poetry is Whitman, and Harris’s setting is so beautifully fitted to the text that one could believe that the two worked on the music together (which of course was chronologically not possible, since Harris was born six years after Whitman died). This is a deeply expressive work, matching the poetry in covering a wide range of feelings.


Already the disc would be worthy of purchase, but then comes the Five Poems of Ancient China and Japan by Charles Tomlinson Griffes. The notes identify this as the first of his works to employ the Orientalism that marked much of his output (think of The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan). The notes point out that these are not very experimental for their time (1917), but that doesn’t detract at all from their beauty. In fact, it took character in that era to write this kind of richly evocative, tuneful music—with its highly colorful orchestration. I found myself enjoying these over and over again.


Finally we have Horatio Parker’s rhapsody for baritone and orchestra (as he called it), Cahál Mór of the Wine-Red Hand— a poem of Celtic origin titled A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century by James Clarence Mangan. We hear echoes of Wagner in this music, which is not surprising since the heroic character of Cahál Mór is cut from the same cloth as some of Wagner’s gods.


The performances are, as I indicated, superb. Patrick Mason’s light, warm baritone is flexible and accurate, with an attractive timbre and capable of a wide range of color and dynamic shading. He sings with conviction, and clearly loves the music. Paul Mann and his Danish forces perform with equal conviction. I find the recorded sound just a bit muffled—nothing serious, but a slight lack of brilliance that would have given the music even more impact. But please don’t let that discourage you. This is a disc of real importance, a candidate for my Want List this year.


FANFARE: Henry Fogel
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Works on This Recording

1.
Feast of Love by Virgil Thomson
Performer:  Patrick Mason (Baritone)
Conductor:  Paul Mann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Odense Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964; USA 
2.
Cáhal Mór of the Wine-Red Hand, Op. 40 by Horatio Parker
Performer:  Patrick Mason (Baritone)
Conductor:  Paul Mann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Odense Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
3.
Water Colors by John Alden Carpenter
Performer:  Patrick Mason (Baritone)
Conductor:  Paul Mann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Odense Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
4.
Poems of Ancient China and Japan, Op. 10 by Charles Tomlinson Griffes
Performer:  Patrick Mason (Baritone)
Conductor:  Paul Mann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Odense Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
5.
Give me the splendid silent sun by Roy Harris
Performer:  Patrick Mason (Baritone)
Conductor:  Paul Mann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Odense Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 

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