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American Classics - Bolcom: Songs Of Innocence And Experience


Release Date: 10/19/2004 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559216-18   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  William Bolcom
Performer:  Thomas YoungLinda HohenfeldJoan MorrisCarmen Pelton,   ... 
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Michigan Symphony OrchestraUniversity of Michigan Chamber Choir
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 17 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews


William Bolcom's ambitious setting of William Blake's complete Songs of Innocence and Experience for soloists, multiple choral forces, and orchestra occupied the composer on and off, beginning as far back as the late 1950s, with most of the work completed between 1973-74 and 1979-82. The composer's renowned eclectic bent makes itself felt in the work's nearly two-and-one-half-hour length. Musical eras, styles, and performance practices leapfrog back and forth in unpredictable progressions, keeping the listener in a constant state of suspense as to what might occur next. For example, in the opening Songs of Innocence, Bolcom's neo-Schoenbergian setting of "The Lamb", replete with difficult,
Read more leaping intervals for the soprano soloist (brilliantly dispatched by Measha Brueggergosman), erupts into a thick, dissonant orchestral tutti that gives way to a lazy country-fiddle lament treatment of "The Shepherd". No sooner do Peter "Madcat" Ruth's hoary pipes twang out the tune than a bomb of orchestral cacophony crushes the Grand Ole Opry to smithereens. A brilliant children's chorus ("Infant Joy") emerges from the ruins, insidiously slipping into a funk-watered-down-for-Broadway-consumption groove for "The Little Black Boy". Along the way we also encounter Handel oratorio, peppy English madrigals, Stephen Foster naiveté, Ivesian mysticism, Berio's fractured folk songs, industrial-strength Varèse percussion ensembles, and effective speech-sung passages.


Bolcom's thoroughly internalized command of such disparate idioms is matched and arguably surpassed by his gift for transitions, plus his ability for keeping orchestral and choral textures fresh, varied, and always interesting to the ear (his use of the harmonica within delicate string passages, for example). And even when some of his juxtapositions seem a bit far-fetched, such as the finale's bloated Reggae pretensions ("I Shot the Sheriff" versus "Also Sprach Zarathustra"), at least Bolcom knows when long enough is long enough. In general, the longer Songs of Experience section contains darker, more serious selections, although the constant stylistic shifts make it difficult to immediately perceive the dramatic arc implied by Blake's ordering of texts.


You couldn't imagine a more varied group of vocal soloists. They run the gamut from Joan Morris' unique cabaret approach and Thomas Young's stentorian yet supple tenor, to Nathan Lee Graham's ringing, focused baritone and Ilona Davidson's attractive, silvery timbre in "The Angel". The numerous choirs and the University of Michigan Orchestra obviously put in serious rehearsal hours (going into overtime, I'll bet), and the sense of occasion hovering over these live performances certainly colors their first-rate contributions. And when you can't help focusing your attention on the music rather than the musicians, as I did, it's clear that Leonard Slatkin's leadership does ample justice to Bolcom's artistic vision and inner ear. Naxos provides full texts plus booklet notes by the composer. [10/12/2004]
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

1. Songs of Innocence and of Experience by William Bolcom
Performer:  Thomas Young (Tenor), Linda Hohenfeld (Soprano), Joan Morris (Mezzo Soprano),
Carmen Pelton (Soprano), Ilana Davidson (Soprano), Christine Brewer (Soprano),
Marietta Simpson (Mezzo Soprano), Measha Brüggergosman (Soprano), Nmon Ford-Livene (Baritone),
Peter "Madcat" Ruth (Harmonica), Nathan Lee Graham (Spoken Vocals), Tommy Morgan (Harmonica),
Jeremy Kittel (Fiddle)
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra,  University of Michigan Chamber Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 04/2004 
Venue:  Live  Hill Auditorium, University of Michigan 
Length: 137 Minutes 11 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Composition written: USA (1956 - 1982). 

Sound Samples

Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 1: Introduction
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 1: The Ecchoing Green
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 1: The Lamb
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 1: The Shepherd
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 1: Infant Joy
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 1: The Little Black Boy
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: Laughing Song
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: Spring
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: A Cradle Song
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: Nurse's Song
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: Holy Thursday
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: The Blossom
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: Interlude
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: The Chimney Sweeper
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 2: The Divine Image
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 3: Nocturne
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 3: Night
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 3: A Dream
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 3: On Another's Sorrow
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 3: The Little Boy Lost
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 3: The Little Boy Found
Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Part 3: Coda
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 1: Introduction
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 1: Hear the Voice of the Bard
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 1: Interlude
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 1: Earth's Answer
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 2: Nurse's Song
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 2: The Fly
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 2: The Tyger
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 2: The Little Girl Lost
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 2: In the Southern Clime
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 2: The Little Girl Found
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 3: The Clod and the Pebble
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 3: The Little Vagabond
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 3: Holy Thursday
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 3: A Poison Tree
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 3: The Angel
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 3: The Sick Rose
Songs of Experience, Volume I: Part 3: To Tirzah

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