Star mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton presents a recital of songs by American composer Jake Heggie, with the composer at the piano. UNEXPECTED SHADOWS is a celebration in words and music of powerful, exceptional women. The program contains four song cycles, a single song, and an opera aria. The Work at Hand, set to poetry of the late Laura Morefield, contemplates on the brave fight against cancer that she, and millions with her, went through. Matt Haimovitz’ cello playing adds an extra layer to this profoundly moving song cycle. Iconic Legacies, on texts by Gene Scheer, offers four portraits of remarkable First Ladies. Scheer also wrote texts for Statuesque, inspired by five iconic sculptures of women and the deeply human stories within them. OfRead more Gods & Cats, based on poetry by Gavin Dillard, offers playful parodies on religious allegories. Music, on a text by Sister Helen Prejean, addresses the transformative, healing, and humanizing power of music, while the so-called Ice Cube Aria from Heggie’s opera If I Were You, on a libretto by Gene Scheer, shows the female demon Brittomara reflecting on the delicious predictability of human nature. Multi-award-winning mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton makes her PENTATONE debut. Jake Heggie has a vast discography with the label, including the opera It’s a Wonderful Life (2017) and song recital albums by Melody Moore, Lisa Delan and Joyce DiDonato. The same applies to Matt Haimovitz, who has released several albums on PENTATONE, from contemporary classical and jazz and rock covers to Bach’s complete cello suites.
Everyone is in peak form on this recording. Barton purrs, croons, divas, and screams her way through four complete song collections along with the song “Music” from The Breaking Waves collection to texts by Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking), and the short “Ice Cube Aria” from Heggie and Gene Scheer’s recent opera, If I Were You. Her huge range and power allies with a larger-than-life personality. Heggie, who was clearly encouraging Barton to perform at her best, holds his own with stellar pianism whose ferocious vitality must have kept Skywalker Studio’s piano tuner very busy. Unexpected Shadows makes the best possible case for the necessity and relevance of modern American classical song.
– San Francisco Classical Voice (sfcv.org)
Barton’s solo album is devoted to Heggie’s art songs and it’s a tribute to his output that he sustains the interest for over an hour with a variety that stands comparison with, say, Poulenc in the 20th century, lavishing sumptuous tone on the cycle written for Barton, The Work at Hand.