LAITMAN Within These Spaces.1,6 Swimmers on the Shore.5,7 Round and Round.2,6 One or Two Things.4,7 A Wild Sostenuto.5,7 2 Dickinson Songs.2,6 The Perfected Life.5,7 One Bee and Revery.2,6 Read more class="ARIAL12bi">Lines Written at the Falls.1,7 Sleep, Little Child.5,7 The Silver Swan.3,7 My Garden.2,7 Homeless.5,7 Amgart.2,6 And Music Shall Not End.5,7 Money.5,7 Eloise at Yaddo3,7 • Sari Gruber (sop);1 Jennifer Check (sop);2 Amanda Gosier (sop);3 Karyn Friedman (mez);4 Randall Scarlata (bar);5 Warren Jones (pn);6 Lori Laitman (pn)7 • ALBANY TROY 1118 (78:52)
Lori Laitman has composed nearly 200 art songs and has recently completed her first opera, The Scarlet Letter. Certainly her affinity for the voice, on the present evidence, is beyond doubt. The writing is grateful, and her songs represent outpourings of great beauty. Laitman studied composition with Jonathan Kramer and Frank Lewin. Back in 2003, Albany issued a disc of Laitman’s music entitled “Dreaming” (570), which featured many of the musicians encountered on the present disc. I have not, unfortunately, heard this earlier recording. All of the songs here have been composed since 2000, so this is truly a 21st-century art song collection.
The song-cycle Within These Spaces (premiered in 2002) sets three Nebraskan poets: Marjorie Saiser, Janet Coleman, and Judith Sornberger. All of the texts examine some aspect of female familial relationships (mother/daughter, grandmother/granddaughter). The central song, “Letter to my Daughter,” is stunningly intense, a concentrated lullaby that is magically performed here by Sari Gruber and Warren Jones. Most touching, though, is the final “Pioneer Child’s Doll.” Gruber’s control of her voice enables the song’s magic to communicate. Gruber excels again at the slow-paced Lines Written at the Falls, a setting of an 1804 poem by Thomas Moore. Laitman creates a dissonance between Moore’s regular scheme and her own, which gives the song its characteristic sense of restless melancholy.
Laitman is herself accompanist for Swimmers on the Shore (2004, setting a poem by David Mason). The text speaks of the poet’s father’s battle with Alzheimer’s. Randall Scarlata has a youthful baritone voice that certainly suits the opening stanza’s reminiscences of when the father was well. The poem itself is remarkably telling, and Laitman’s setting does it full justice on an emotional level. Perhaps this would have been the most powerful way to close the disc.
The song cycle, Round and Round, was composed in 2001. It sets poems by Anne Spencer Lindbergh (1940–1993). Sadness permeates many of Lindbergh’s poems, although there is humor (“Little Plump Person” in particular). The singer here is Jennifer Check, who is often seen at the Met (Liù, Nella in Gianni Schicchi, the High Priestess in Aida, among others). Her voice is absolutely charming, as is her way with these songs. More, her diction is exemplary. All these traits can also be heard in the 2004 setting of Adelaide Ayer Kelly’s My Garden. She shines, too, in the two touching Dickinson settings (the poems in question being “Good Morning Midnight” and “Wider than the Sky”). Laitman herself describes these Dickinson settings as “at the core of the CD.” There are, of course, huge challenges to setting Dickinson, and Laitman takes them all in her stride. She provides a happy-go-lucky gait for “Good Morning Midnight.” The setting moves toward the regretful near the end, prefiguring the second Dickinson poem here, “Wider than the Sky.” Scarlata sings the brief 2006 Dickinson cycle, The Perfected Life (it can be sung by either baritone or soprano). All three songs are beautiful, but most beautiful of all is the final offering, from which the cycle gets its title. Composed as a 90th birthday present for her father, it is remarkably tender. More Dickinson, too, for One Bee and Revery (2003). Laitman is clearly most at home with these poems.
Mezzo Karyn Friedman sings Laitman’s setting of Mary Oliver’s One or Two Things. The selected texts make up a mini song cycle. The dissonant third song, “The God of Dirt” provides a dramatic focus. A Wild Sostenuto (2008) sets Richard Wilbur’s “For C.” The song’s trajectory is from stormy (“After the clash of the elevator gates”) to peace. The singer, at the close, is asked to hum, becoming just another line in the texture.
Laitman herself provided the text for the lullaby, Sleep, Little Child, a revision of a work originally for a cappella chorus. It works well with piano, but probably sounds that bit more homely with choir. The Silver Swan is best known in Orlando Gibbons’ setting. Wordless melismas portray the swan’s own song. This is a lovely item, memorably delivered by Washington-based soprano Amanda Gosier.
The title And Music Shall Not End actually covers two songs, making up a mini-cycle. The first, “Partial Lunar Eclipse, Sept. 7th, 2006,” is a reflection on the power of the universe in a poem by Anne Ranasinghe and is powerful in its concentrated breadth. The second, “A Pastoral Lament,” is simple and poignant.
Laitman tackles each poem’s subject matter with unfailing sympathy (a sympathy most in evidence, perhaps, in Homeless), yet she can react with tremendous humor, too. The final two items on the disc are Money, wonderfully realized by Randall Scarlata, and Eloise at Yaddo, an encore piece to words by David Yezzi and deliciously sung by Amanda Gosier.