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Rosner: Songs Of Lightness And Angels / Farnum, Kampmeier, Grabois, Grossman

Rosner / Farnum / Goodman / Grabois
Release Date: 05/08/2012 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1353   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Arnold Rosner
Performer:  Elizabeth FarnumMargaret KampmeierDaniel GraboisJeffrey Grossman
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This two-CD set, titled Songs of Lightness and Angels, is the completion of Arnold Rosner’s songs on disc. It’s essentially a production of enterprising soprano Elizabeth Farnum—whose CD several years ago on Centaur of the songs of Kaikhosru Sorabji took the musical world by surprise—though Minstrel to an Unquiet Lady features tenor Jonathan Goodman and one of the songs in Strictly Personals, “Swinging Couple,” features a duet between Farnum and baritone Dominic Inferrera.



Rosner, like many American composers who followed the Read more lead of Aaron Copland, writes in a lyrical style that intermixes tonality and modality in addition to a clever use of chromatics in the accompaniment. I found his songs well matched in terms of music to words, although the music of the three-song cycle Minstrel to an Unquiet Lady tended, to my ears, towards monotony and thematic repetition. As in her groundbreaking album of Sorabji’s songs (Centaur 2613), Farnum makes an extremely strong impression on the listener with her musicality, expressiveness, sweet tone and excellent diction in presenting songs, while exhibiting some looseness of vibrato and occasional larynx strain in her top notes.


In both Minstrel to an Unquiet Lady and Into Thy Hands , I heard in Rosner’s music something of an approach to plainchant, with very simple accompaniment, little harmonic change, and rhythmically straightforward melodies. Both are adaptations of material from Rosner’s opera The Chronicle of Nine, based on the drama by Florence Stevenson. Tenor Goodman has an unusual voice: very pure of tone but slightly hollow, yet with excellent interpretive skills. It turns out that he was a member of the choral group Chanticleer, and has since sung the Evangelist in Bach’s Passions. The lone instrumental piece on this album, A Plaintive Harmony, was written for Israeli hornist Meir Rimon in lieu of the horn concerto that Rimon wanted but Rosner could not find inspiration for. It is an unaccompanied piece lasting 11 minutes and is both very interesting in its lyrical but intense construction and demanding of the soloist. Sadly, Rimon died unexpectedly of cancer before he had the chance to play it. Daniel Grabois’s performance here is outstanding, however.


There’s an ironically funny history to the cycle Songs of Lightness and Angels. Requested by a horn player whose soprano partner was Finnish, he wanted the words to be in that language, which Rosner neither spoke nor understood. The duo did help Rosner understand Finnish phonetics and rhythm by phone, however. He worked hard and diligently on it and, sure enough, by the time it was finished hornist and soprano had parted company! This is a wonderful piece, though, full of unexpected harmonic twists and turns (hovering around A Minor), quirky yet attractive melodic structure (which in the second song sounds influenced by Hassidic music), and quite intense expression. Farnum’s voice sounds terrific here, with little or none of the slight defects apparent earlier in this recital. Small wonder the album was named after this piece: it’s terrific from start to Finnish! (Sorry about that, but I like it.)


Poseidon is another good song, also sung well by Farnum, but I was really knocked sideways by the baroque-influenced-with-some-modern-harmonies little cycle, Of Songs and Sonnets, set to words by John Milton. In this recording the acoustic is entirely different from the rest of the album, very roomy, as if recorded in a church, though the back of the booklet attributes all the recording sessions to “Patrych Sound Studios, Bronx, New York” between January and August 2010. And here, the music is really expressive, moving gaily and insouciantly between keys. The harpsichord accompaniment makes use of multiple stops, which gives the music a very crisp, forward propulsion. Nearly as good, in a different yet related style, is To the Keen Stars, set to the poetry of Shelley.


One of the cutest pieces I’ve ever heard, as well as one of the funniest, is Strictly Personals. Rosner wrote these himself, so you can’t accuse him of trolling the Internet or personal columns in the newspapers. The musical language here is a bit monotonous harmonically and rhythmically, but I think Rosner did this so that one could enjoy and occasionally laugh at the lyrics without thinking too much. In the five songs, Rosner covers the female entrepreneur, “successful and pretty, a wonderful catch,” looking for same…successful and rich, but if you’re not independently wealthy it’s OK, too, as long as you’re not bankrupt or owe a lot in alimony; the washed-out gay stockbroker who’s attempting a second career at a French culinary institute; the “love counselor” with her tarot cards and palm readings; a sad, older widower, looking for someone “who knows how to enjoy life [and] how to pray;” and—what else?—the ubiquitous “swinging couple,” looking for playmates of any sexual orientation or fetishes: “we take no prisoners, all identities, any ethnicity.” Here Farnum is joined by a young baritone, Dominic Inferrera, with a light, attractive, yet slightly unsteady voice, who does a generally fine job as the gay stockbroker, elderly widower, and half of the swinging couple. The album closes out with Five, a solo song by Farnum about the dilemmas of being at that awkward age—between infanthood and “real” childhood. Overall, then, this is a delightful duo-CD. If you are a fan of melodic contemporary music, you can’t go wrong with this one.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1.
Psalm XXIII, Op. 22 by Arnold Rosner
Performer:  Elizabeth Farnum (Soprano), Margaret Kampmeier (Piano)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
2.
The Leaving Light, Op. 55 by Arnold Rosner
Performer:  Elizabeth Farnum (Soprano), Margaret Kampmeier (Piano)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
3.
Elegiac Songs (3), Op. 58 by Arnold Rosner
Performer:  Elizabeth Farnum (Soprano), Margaret Kampmeier (Piano)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
4.
Minstrel to an Unquiet Lady, Op. 77 by Arnold Rosner
Performer:  Elizabeth Farnum (Soprano), Margaret Kampmeier (Piano)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
5.
Into Thy Hands from The Chronicle of Nine, Op. 81 by Arnold Rosner
Performer:  Elizabeth Farnum (Soprano), Margaret Kampmeier (Piano)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
6.
A Plaintive Harmony, Op. 85 by Arnold Rosner
Performer:  Daniel Grabois (French Horn)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
7.
Songs of Lightness and Angels, Op. 90 by Arnold Rosner
Performer:  Elizabeth Farnum (Soprano), Margaret Kampmeier (Piano), Daniel Grabois (French Horn)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
8.
Poseidon, Op. 96 by Arnold Rosner
Performer:  Elizabeth Farnum (Soprano), Margaret Kampmeier (Piano)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
9.
Of Songs and Sonnets, Op. 108 by Arnold Rosner
Performer:  Elizabeth Farnum (Soprano), Jeffrey Grossman (Harpsichord)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
10.
To the Keen Stars, Op. 111 by Arnold Rosner
Performer:  Elizabeth Farnum (Soprano), Margaret Kampmeier (Piano)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
11.
Strictly Personals, Op. 116 by Arnold Rosner
Performer:  Elizabeth Farnum (Soprano), Margaret Kampmeier (Piano)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
12.
Five, Op. 120 by Arnold Rosner
Performer:  Elizabeth Farnum (Soprano), Margaret Kampmeier (Piano)
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 

Sound Samples

Psalm 23, Op. 22
The Leaving Light, Op. 55
3 Elegiac Songs, Op. 58: No. 1. Les neiges d'Anton
3 Elegiac Songs, Op. 58: No. 2. Ein Wort, ein Satz
3 Elegiac Songs, Op. 58: No. 3. Kaddish
Minstrel to an Unquiet Lady, Op. 77: No. 1. Welcome All You Lords
Minstrel to an Unquiet Lady, Op. 77: No. 2. Edward Was a King
Minstrel to an Unquiet Lady, Op. 77: No. 3. The Road to Norfolk
The Chronicle of Nine, Op. 81: Into Thy Hands
A Plaintive Harmony, Op. 85
Songs of Lightness and Angels, Op. 90: No. 1. Maa (The Earth)
Songs of Lightness and Angels, Op. 90: No. 2. Rauha (Peace)
Songs of Lightness and Angels, Op. 90: No. 3. Aamulla (In the Morning)
Poseidon, Op. 96
Of Songs and Sonnets, Op. 108: No. 1. Tell Me, Sweetest Nymph
Of Songs and Sonnets, Op. 108: No. 2. To Mr. H. Lawes, on the publishing his Airs
Of Songs and Sonnets, Op. 108: No. 3. Presentation to the Father and Mother
To the Keen Stars, Op. 111
Strictly Personals, Op. 116: No. 1. Successful and Pretty
Strictly Personals, Op. 116: No. 2. Roommate Wanted
Strictly Personals, Op. 116: No. 3. Carmensita de Morales
Strictly Personals, Op. 116: No. 4. The Silver Years
Strictly Personals, Op. 116: No. 5. Swinging Couple
Five, Op. 120

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