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Drifts And Shadows - American Song For The New Millenium / Elem Eley

Release Date: 09/09/2008 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1050   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Tom CipulloDavid EddlemanDaron HagenMartin Hennessey,   ... 
Performer:  J. J. PennaElem Eley
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 0 Hours 53 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DRIFTS AND SHADOWS Elem Eley (bar); J. J. Penna (pn); Bruce Williamson (cl) 1 ALBANY TROY 1050 (52:56)

CIPULLO Drifts and Shadows. EDDLEMAN Lost shadows: How many times do I love thee, dear. We understand each other perfectly. HAGEN Letting Go. Read more class="COMPOSER12"> HENNESSY Ruminations: 1 I thought it was Harry; Of the natural world; You get to Gilead. HUNDLEY Come Ready and See Me. Strings in the Earth and Air. HOIBY I Was There

Announced as “American Song for the New Millennium,” this is a miraculous compilation of gems. Baritone Elem Eley has worked at various times with each of the six composers featured on this disc. The first, by Tom Cipullo, is a sequence of five songs from his cantata Secrets entitled Drifts and Shadows . This sequence won the Wattis Prize for American Song from the San Francisco Song Festival in 2006/07, and deservedly so on the present evidence. Lyric at heart, there is much tenderness in these settings of texts by Linda Pastan. Pastan concentrates on images of chill, of silence, and of shadows, and Cipullo’s carefully controlled, delicate harmonies reflect this landscape. Only “Subway,” the fourth song, opens out to a disturbed spikiness (beautifully managed here by both performers).

The two songs by the prolific David Eddleman are both first recordings. The bittersweet, tender “How many times do I love thee, dear” (text by Thomas Lovell Beddoes) comes from the 2004 cycle, Lost Shadows. We understand each other perfectly (Frank Daykin) matches the mood perfectly. I like the way that Eley, in this latter song, blanches his tone expressively.

Daron Hagen strips down the textures to a whispered bare minimum for the opening of his Letting Go . Eley, in his introductory liner notes, talks of this as a “bittersweet cycle of compassion and loss.” Hagen sets a variety of poets, always with the utmost sensitivity. Most memorable, perhaps, is the symbolism of the ferryman in “Ferry me across the water” (the second song, text by Christina Rossetti); the fragility of the closing stages of “Ghost Letter” (McCann) is similarly affecting. Occasionally the higher reaches of Eley’s voice seem to be strained by the writing’s demands (there is a distinct timbral thinning), but his rendition is, nevertheless, noteworthy. The final song, “Psalm 150,” is the most active and dissonant of the set.

Ruminations by composer/pianist Martin Hennessy is a cycle comprising six songs to words by the postmodern poet William Bronk. Here we hear three of them, in their first commercial recording. The writing is compulsively active in the first song, “I thought it was Harry” (some superb piano-playing here from Penna). Clarinettist Bruce Williamson joins in for “Of the natural world,” adding a lonely commentary to a lonely song, then acts as a spirited play partner for the jazzy “You get to Gilead.”

From the tail end of the 20th century come two songs by Richard Hundley. The pure simplicity and easy grace of Come ready and see me complement the beauty of James Purdy’s text (“I can’t wait forever, for the years are running on” sings the protagonist); a section of James Joyce’s “Chamber Music” provides the words for the brief and fragile Strings in the Earth and Air. Finally, a song cycle by Lee Hoiby on texts by the great Walt Whitman. Hoiby is a wonderful composer. Eley met him while at Princeton while working on Hoiby’s oratorio Galileo, Galilei in the mid 1990s. The Whitman texts are taken from Leaves of Grass and Song of Myself . Again, there is the odd touch of strain in the upper end of Eley’s range (“To loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs,” at the close of the first song, for instance), but he gives his all to narrate the sea-faring story of “I was there” (the second song as well as the title of the cycle as a whole). “O captain! My captain!” is the most dramatic song of the set, and here the mood is exquisitely set by J. J. Penna’s exemplary piano-playing (he appears to be only known as “J. J.,” as that is how he appears both on the jewel case and in the booklet). “Joy, shipmate, joy!” begins with tumbling piano scale fragments, illustrating the prevailing jubilation of the release of the end of human life into the freedom beyond.

It is quite right that the recital ends with the Hoiby, for that is where its greatest depth lies. But, as the above commentary indicates, there is much to be gained from the rest of the disc. A Want List candidate, despite the occasional reservation.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

Drifts and Shadows by Tom Cipullo
Performer:  J. J. Penna (Piano), Elem Eley (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
How many times do I love thee, Dear? by David Eddleman
Performer:  J. J. Penna (Piano), Elem Eley (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
We understand each other perfectly by David Eddleman
Performer:  J. J. Penna (Piano), Elem Eley (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Letting go by Daron Hagen
Performer:  J. J. Penna (Piano), Elem Eley (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
3 songs from ruminations by Martin Hennessey
Performer:  J. J. Penna (Piano), Elem Eley (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Come ready and see me by Richard Hundley
Performer:  Elem Eley (Baritone), J. J. Penna (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Strings in the earth and air by Richard Hundley
Performer:  J. J. Penna (Piano), Elem Eley (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
I was there by Lee Hoiby
Performer:  J. J. Penna (Piano), Elem Eley (Baritone)
Period: 20th Century 

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