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Mostly Americana / Jennifer Poffenberger, Lori Piitz


Release Date: 02/08/2011 
Label:  Enharmonic Records   Catalog #: 12   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Gian Carlo MenottiRichard HundleyNed RoremDavid Nathaniel Baker,   ... 
Performer:  Jennifer PoffenbergerLori Piitz
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



MOSTLY AMERICANA: 20th-Century Songs and Arias Jennifer Poffenberger (sop); Lori Piitz (pn) ENHARMONIC 90-012 (66:40 &)


MENOTTI The Medium: Monica’s Aria. HUNDLEY The Astronomers. Isaac Greentree. My Master Hath a Garden. Birds, U.S.A. Come Ready and See Me. Sweet Suffolk Owl. I Do. Bartholomew Green. ROREM Read more class="ARIAL12bi">The Silver Swan. In a Gondola. Song for a Girl. Pippa’s Song. Alleluia. D. N. BAKER If There be Sorrow. The Smile. The Optimist. A Song. Parades to Hell. M. L. LEHMAN Pilgrim Songs. TURINA Poema en forma de canciones


This collection of songs, most of them by American composers, originally appeared in 1993. It was recorded in Recital Hall at Indiana University and produced by David DeBoor Canfield. Elsewhere in this issue, you will find reviewed a number of other Enharmonic CDs of which Canfield is not only the producer, but in one instance the sole composer of the works on the disc, and in another, the co-composer of a sacred oratorio in association with his father, John Canfield. I will reserve the bio of this musical family for the CD dedicated to the father-and-son project.


Three of the six composers on the current disc are bound to be familiar to readers: Joaquin Turina (1882–1949), Gian Carlo Menotti (1911–2007), and Ned Rorem (b.1923). The Spanish Turina and the Italian-born Menotti represent the one-and-a-half non-American contingent of this mostly American crew. The half is Menotti, for though he first came to the U.S. as a teen and regularly referred to himself as an American composer, he never renounced his Italian citizenship.


The remaining crew members are all homegrown products. Cincinnati native Richard Albert Hundley (b. 1931) moved to New York in 1950 and enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music but dropped out before graduating. His natural singing talent landed him a slot in the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. Taking advantage of his proximity and access to a number of the Met’s star singers, such as Anneliese Rothenberger, Rosalind Elias, Anna Moffo, Teresa Stratas, Lili Chookasian, John Reardon, and Betty Allen, he was able to interest them in his original songs, which they began performing on stage.


More than half of Hundley’s songs on this disc have received other recordings. Come Ready and See Me , in particular, is popular enough to have no fewer than six other entries. It’s no wonder. The poem by James Purdy is a variation on the age-old theme of a lover longing for the return of her lost love. Hundley sets the text to a touching melody over an arpeggio accompaniment in the piano which, with but a few minor adjustments to the harmonic progressions, could have been written by Mendelssohn. Hundley’s songs may date from the second half of the 20th century, but his muse is unapologetically romantic.


David Nathaniel Baker (b.1931), an Indianapolis native, is a leading symphonic jazz composer who took his undergraduate and graduate degrees in music education at Indiana University. A talented trombonist, he was forced to abandon the instrument after a jaw injury left him unable to play. This effectively ended his career as a performer, but he was determined, as the saying goes, to make lemonade from life’s lemons. So he turned to composition and pedagogy, becoming one of the first and most important in the field of codifying the then largely aural tradition of jazz. Baker’s book Jazz Improvisation became one of the seminal works on the subject. As an educator he has helped make Indiana a highly regarded destination for students of music. In 1973, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and in 1979 he was nominated for a Grammy Award.


Baker’s musical vocabulary is more modernistic than Hundley’s, with a hint of jazz-inflected rhythms and blues progressions, but it’s also peppered with a dash of flippant humor. The Optimist , which lasts only 24 seconds, is set to a four-line poem by Kenneth Ferling that resembles one of those loopy “limicks” by Ogden Nash in a musical style somewhat reminiscent of the humorous songs by Charles Ives. The verse goes, “The optimist fell 10 stories, and at each window bar, he shouted to his friends, ‘All right! So! Far!’” One expects a big splat at the end, but Baker leaves it to our imagination.


In a Fanfare 28:5 review of a recording containing Mark Louis Lehman’s Three Souvenirs , Walter Simmons wrote, “Some vindictive performers and composers may see Mark Lehman’s Three Souvenirs (2002) as an opportunity to give the critic a taste of his own medicine, as the Cincinnati-based Lehman is a veteran reviewer for the American Record Guide and The Absolute Sound— as well as the program annotator for this CD. However, they would have a hard time finding fault with this piece. Although he purports never to have studied composition, his efforts in this direction reveal the same unerring taste and precision of detail as his reviews.”


Lehman’s Pilgrim Songs on the present disc is a cycle of seven numbers written in a modal, folk-song style. The vocal writing is quite fetching, but what I find especially interesting and attractive in these pieces is Lehman’s approach to the piano accompaniments, which strike me as more intricate, more sophisticated, and more contrapuntally interwoven with the voice than are the more homophonic chordal and arpeggiated accompaniments of Hundley and Baker.


The songs of Ned Rorem are likely to be more familiar territory to readers, as is the poetry by famous poets—Ben Jonson, Robert Browning, and John Dryden—that he set to music. Rorem, of course, is not the first composer to make a musical setting of Jonson’s famous The Silver Swan . It is best known in the breathtakingly beautiful five-voice madrigal of 1612 by Orlando Gibbons. Rorem’s blend of his teacher Virgil Thomson’s diatonic style of Americana with a more chromatic and sometimes dissonant French-style neoclassicism manifests itself throughout his five songs on the disc.


To those who simply cannot abide the shameless theatrics and emotional pandering of Menotti, anyone who admits to liking him must, of necessity, be lacking musical taste if not moral fiber. Such, at least, seems to be the posture of one or more elitist critics. This has not, however, stood in the way of audiences worldwide thrilling to Menotti’s alchemic mix of Barber, Bernstein, Broadway, Barbra, and Bette. “Monica’s Aria” from Menotti’s The Medium is usually good for a Kleenex or two.


Turina is not a composer I tend to associate with song, but his Poema en forma de canciones set to texts by Ramon de Campoamor has had a number of famous advocates on record, including Victoria de los Angeles, Nicolai Gedda, and Joyce DiDonato. The four songs are preceded by a “Dedicatoria” for solo piano, following an Andalusian folk music custom to begin with a mood-setting prelude for guitar.


This is a challenging program to bring off. Its technical demands and stylistic contrasts would test not just the vocal equipment but the interpretive insight and musical instinct of the best singer. In well over an hour’s worth of dedicated effort, Jennifer Poffenberger’s voice doesn’t flag once. This talented coloratura soprano studied at the Indiana University School of Music and, as of the time this recording was made, had appeared in productions of Die Fledermaus and The Merry Widow . She brightens the timbre of her voice for the lighter-weight numbers, but by no means is she a soubrette, for she has the vocal heft to put across the more dramatic songs in a most convincing manner. Canadian pianist Lori Piitz matches her playing to accord with the varying tonal palette of Poffenberger’s singing.


The CD mastering of this 1993 recording is richly detailed and warmly resonant. Strongly recommended.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
The Medium: Bravo!...Up in the sky "Monica's Waltz" by Gian Carlo Menotti
Performer:  Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano), Lori Piitz (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945; USA 
2.
The Astronomers by Richard Hundley
Performer:  Lori Piitz (Piano), Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
3.
Isaac Greentree by Richard Hundley
Performer:  Lori Piitz (Piano), Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; USA 
4.
My Master Hath a Garden by Richard Hundley
Performer:  Lori Piitz (Piano), Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano)
5.
Birds, U.S.A by Richard Hundley
Performer:  Lori Piitz (Piano), Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano)
6.
Come ready and see me by Richard Hundley
Performer:  Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano), Lori Piitz (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
7.
Sweet Suffolk Owl by Richard Hundley
Performer:  Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano), Lori Piitz (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1979; USA 
8.
I do by Richard Hundley
Performer:  Lori Piitz (Piano), Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
9.
Bartholomew Green by Richard Hundley
Performer:  Lori Piitz (Piano), Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
10.
Silver Swan by Ned Rorem
Performer:  Lori Piitz (Piano), Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; USA 
11.
In a Gondola by Ned Rorem
Performer:  Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano), Lori Piitz (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
12.
Song for a Girl by Ned Rorem
Performer:  Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano), Lori Piitz (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
13.
Pippa's Song by Ned Rorem
Performer:  Lori Piitz (Piano), Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
14.
Alleluia by Ned Rorem
Performer:  Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano), Lori Piitz (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1946; USA 
15.
If There be Sorrow by David Nathaniel Baker
Performer:  Lori Piitz (Piano), Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano)
16.
The Smile by David Nathaniel Baker
Performer:  Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano), Lori Piitz (Piano)
17.
The Optimist by David Nathaniel Baker
Performer:  Lori Piitz (Piano), Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano)
18.
A Song by David Nathaniel Baker
Performer:  Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano), Lori Piitz (Piano)
19.
Parades to Hell by David Nathaniel Baker
Performer:  Lori Piitz (Piano), Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano)
20.
Pilgrim Songs by Mark Louis Lehman
Performer:  Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano), Lori Piitz (Piano)
21.
Poema en forma de canciones, Op. 19 by Joaquin Turina
Performer:  Lori Piitz (Piano), Jennifer Poffenberger (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Spain 

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