Notes and Editorial Reviews
Heidi Klann (sop); Alayne Hall (pn)
PHOENIX 1439 (55:05
Text and Translation)
Peros’s compositional style in songs is, if anything, even more varied than his motets. Here, as in so much of his music, one is aware of his primarily tonal style of writing, sounding at one moment like Ned Rorem, in another like Seymour Barab, in yet another like Britten, yet in the end like no one else but Nick Peros. Rising and descending chromatics are one feature of his style, at
least in many of these works. Another is his unfailing sensitivity to mood and text, which in a very different way is also shown in the motets. The bottom line is that this disc introduces us to a body of work that any recitalists, looking for good contemporary songs in English, would be proud to add to their repertoire.
Indeed, I am struck by how much musical and emotional information Peros packs into such brief spans of time. Unlike Schubert or Wolf, Peros doesn’t waste time repeating lyrics, either to recapitulate a particularly felicitous musical turn of phrase or to hammer home the meaning of the words. On the contrary, he makes his statement and leaves the scene—sometimes on a dangling dissonance, which is then left to the hearer to resolve if he or she wishes to. Of these 31 songs, only five are longer than two and a half minutes, and 22 of them are two minutes or less.
In addition to such usual subjects for modern English-language song as Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, A. E. Housman, William Blake, and James Joyce, Peros uses a great many poems by Emily Brontë, much better known for her novel
. Discovered by her sister Charlotte after her death, Emily Brontë’s poetry has a quality best described by Charlotte as “wild melancholy.” Indeed, most of these songs are songs of melancholy. Regarding Housman, Peros notes that he “actually wrote a brief poem commenting on the sadness of his poetry—it is very hard to find a happy Housman poem.” Two of the song texts (
Morning’s First Light Is Gold
Today a Bird Came Down to Me
) are by Peros himself, and these are cheerful songs as well as cheerful lyrics.
Earlier I mentioned a kinship to Britten. This is evident in songs like
Tell Me, Tell Me, Smiling Child
I Gazed upon the Cloudless Moon
where the quicksand chromaticism is not employed, yet where the primarily tonal base sounds different because the underlying harmony never really resolves in the tonic, but keeps shifting out of center.
A good example of how Peros uses pivot points to shift the tonality is
She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways,
where the singer and the music keep trying, desperately, to find a home key of G, but Peros continually pulls the rug out from under it. Eventually the music just stops, unwilling to continue falling through the harmonic trap door. When a song does find a home key, as for instance the G?-Minor of
Sleep Brings No Joy to Me,
Peros sustains interest by his use of short pauses that break up the rhythm if only by a fraction of a beat. This song also ends on a tone cluster, much to the surprise of the listener who was lulled into complacency throughout!
As in the case of his motet album, Peros is very fortunate to have first-rate artists to interpret his music. Heidi Klann, who studied voice both in her native Canada and at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, is quite clearly an exceptional singer, having a soprano voice of good range, outstanding flexibility, fine placement, and generally excellent diction. Moreover her partner, pianist Alayne Hall, is a first-rate accompanist. (How I wish that baritone Konrad Jarnot had her on his recording of
!) Thus, between them, one traverses this recital in full expectation that they will let neither you nor the music down, and they don’t.
I cannot recommend this disc highly enough. It is a rare jewel of continually rewarding and enriching listening experiences, one that I am sure you will treasure for a long time to come.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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