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C. Curtis-Smith: Gold Are My Flowers; A Civil War Song Cycle

Curtis-smith / Pelton / Chamber Ensemble / Miller
Release Date: 09/13/2011 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1278   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Curtis Curtis-Smith
Performer:  Judy MoonertChristine SmithTom KnificRenata Artman Knific,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

CURTIS-SMITH Gold Are My Flowers. 1 A Civil War Cycle 2 1 Joe Miller, cond; 1 Carmen Pelton, 2 Mary Bonhag (sop); 1 Jan Opalach (bar); 2 C. Curtis-Smith (pn); 1 ens Read more ALBANY 1278 (75:48 Text and Translation)

It is soprano Carmen Pelton’s singing that really makes the song cycle Gold Are My Flowers fly. She sings with the utmost purity and total focus (try the mesmeric, initially unaccompanied “You Can Smell the Flowers”). Baritone Jan Opalach is a fine musician, too, whose rounded voice and exemplary diction complement her well.

C. Curtis-Smith is both composer and librettist, although he also inserts poems by Linda Hogan (written especially for this work), Navajo chant, portions of Columbus’s Log and Book of Prophesies, and the Bible. Originally called Christopher the Christ-Bearer , this “cantata/melodrama” centers on a lesser-known side of Columbus, that of a prophet who foresaw the second coming of Christ in 1650. The soprano sings the American poems and texts; the baritone takes the role of Columbus. Curtis-Smith uses different harmonic backgrounds to distinguish them (diatonic/pentatonic for the former, expressionist/chromatic for the latter).

There is power in Curtis-Smith’s simplicity of utterance (the soprano’s “In First Light,” with its simply chugging accompaniment, or the tenderness of the baritone against gently staccato, dripping accompaniment in “You Can Smell the Flowers”). When he combines the voices (“Words called the body of a man out of the forgotten clay of his own beginning”), it makes a real dramatic point. And there is palpable darkness to the shadowy, slithering musical language of “They Have the Softest and Gentlest Voices (Credo).” The instrumental ensemble plays crisply, and a special mention should certainly go to trumpeter Scott Thornberg, who plays an important role in this piece. Of particular note is the sense of stillness and freshness all participants create in the “Navajo Night Chant” (the 10th movement, and the most memorable part of the score). Pelton appears to be multitracked toward the end of this movement, her voice receding into the distance as she recites what is, in essence, a prayer to the Earth (it is actually a Hawaiian prayer).

The other work on the disc, A Civil War Song Cycle , which follows, tracks the emotional sequence of the Civil War, setting poets Herman Melville and Walt Whitman. Mary Bonhag is the plaintive-voiced soprano here, while the composer accompanies most sensitively from the piano. Bonhag is as effective in the near-spoken passages as she is in the more lyrical ones. The sheer desolation of Curtis-Smith’s Whitman setting “Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night” is remarkable; the ensuing “The Housetop” (Melville) continues this atmosphere, but with disturbing overtones. This piece complements Gold Are My Flowers perfectly, its delicate tapestry a sort of balm. Contrast is effected by “Beat! Beat! Drums!” (Whitman), especially as it is placed next to the final movement, the poignant “A Requiem” (Melville), the latter beautifully delivered by Bonhag and the composer.

Full texts are included. An intriguing and rewarding release.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

Gold Are My Flowers by Curtis Curtis-Smith
Performer:  Judy Moonert (Percussion), Christine Smith (Flute), Tom Knific (Double Bass),
Renata Artman Knific (Violin), Carmen Pelton (Soprano), Jan Opalach (Bass Baritone),
Bradley Wong (Clarinet), Karen Buranskas (Cello), Scott Thronburg (Trumpet),
Matthew Ardizzone (Guitar)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
A Civil War Song Cycle by Curtis Curtis-Smith
Performer:  Mary Bonhag (Soprano), Curtis Curtis-Smith (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 

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