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La Voix Nue / Patricia Green

Dove / Schafer / Tann / Green
Release Date: 06/11/2013 
Label:  Blue Griffin   Catalog #: 279   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jonathan DoveR. Murray SchaferHilary TannJosé Evangelista,   ... 
Performer:  Patricia Green
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews


DOVE Ariel. SCHAFER Princess of the Stars: Dawn aria. TANN Arachne. EVANGELISTA Exercises de Read more Style (Selections). KURTÁG Einige Sätze aus den Sudelbüchern Georg Christoph Lichtenbergs. WEIR King Harald’s Saga

This very strange album is made even stranger by the fact that the singer, Patricia Green, has a beautiful timbre but also a slow vibrato in the voice that registers on the ear as a sort of wobble, though if you happen to listen (as I did accidentally) to the disc from another room that does not have speakers in it, the wobble is not nearly as intrusive. I attribute this quirk to the incredibly close miking of the record; thus I take a point off for that while giving points for the high quality of the music and the excellent performances.

The liner notes tell us that Green got the idea for such a recital after hearing Judith Weir’s King Harald’s Saga and was “fascinated by this intense narrative with so many characters; all sung by one person,” and thus it led to the creation of this record. It begins with Jonathan Dove’s Ariel, and one of the interesting things about this five song suite is the opening piece, where the singer is called upon to sing the word “Ssshhh!” twice. On the record, this has the effect of sounding like a very faint rattle sound in the distance. By and large, the music is tonal, but it creates a strange sound world due to Dove’s use of accented syncopations on vowel sounds, which have the effect almost of counterpoint, even though there is only one voice (no pun intended) heard at a time. The cycle ends as it began, with another “Ssshhh.”

R. Murray Schafer’s opera, Princess of the Stars, was written in 1981. The excerpt sung here was not intended to be sung as a concert piece, but “at dawn on a secluded lake, where the bird songs and the natural resonance of the water bring about an entirely different listening (and singing) experience.” Heard here, it is a cousin to Debussy’s “Mes longs chevaux” from Pelléas et Mélisande, although this piece is wordless, with the singer simply creating a melisma of sound around the chirping of birds. It has a highly hypnotic effect, and Green does a splendid job with it. Surprisingly, this recording does not use prerecorded birds. Rather, Green recorded it in the open-air environment of Lake Lansing Park, where the local fauna simply joined in with her!

I’ve had good things to say in the past about the music of Hilary Tann, and her song cycle Arachne is yet another excellent example. This work, in particular, shows off Green’s excellent sense of vocal coloration. Based on the legend of the confrontation between Arachne, a mortal, who bests the goddess Athena in weaving, whereupon the latter turns the former into a spider. The lyrics for the four songs were written by Jordan Smith, and describe different aspects of Arachne’s character.

José Evangelista studied both physics and music in Valencia, but settled on the latter for his career. In 1970 he moved to Montreal to study composition with André Prévost and Bruch Mahler. His Exercises de Style are based on the symbolist poetry of Raymond Queneau. Unfortunately, only the opening spoken recit is translated into English here; the five songs which follow only have their French words in the booklet. Since much of this music is sung almost as plainchant, with next to no inflection in the voice or a differentiation of words in the text, one must assume that this symbolist poetry is more or less set to “objectivist” music. Nevertheless, it has a nice feel about it and, again, it is primarily tonal; the fourth song ( Italianismes ) is indeed very melodic, and the last song ( Anglicismes ) has an almost swaggering, downward-turning melody that the listener can well imagine having a chordal accompaniment.

By contrast, the music of György Kurtág has a decidedly Hungarian “accent” to it (this was one time where I could tell the change of music without having to go in the other room and look at the CD player to see where I was). Kurtág’s compositional style includes fairly wide vocal leaps, which Green negotiates with apparent ease while maintaining a superb legato. And here, happily, the lyrics (in German) are given English translations. It should be mentioned, for the sake of clarity, that this is not really a song cycle but a collection of 22 “musical aphorisms,” some of which are titled and some of which are not. Green has chosen nine to perform here.

Then we come to Judith Weir’s highly unusual 14-minute a cappella opera, King Harald’s Saga, in which the soprano is asked to sing eight solo roles as well as the part of the Norwegian army(!!). The singer gives a spoken introduction to each act before indulging in the singing; none of the work’s musical items lasts more than a minute. I’ve had occasion to hear, and enjoy, Weir’s music in the past, and this work is certainly one of her very best. One may think, prior to hearing it, that such dramatic and musical compression are incompatible with a primarily tonal style, but Weir makes it work, and there are certainly some very challenging sections in the music where the singer is asked, more to less, to skip around the entire tonal system in leaping fourths and fifths which often change pitch by as little as a half tone or as much as a minor third. In a later section, the vocalist is required to sing what are best described as “serrated” lines of music, utilizing vocal shakes in an entirely new manner. This is a real tour de force for the mezzo, at one point even stretching her voice up to a high B, and Green does a simply astounding job of encompassing all of its difficulties.

I found this to be a remarkable collection of music, marred only by (as I mentioned) the too-close mike placement throughout. Nevertheless, if you approach it with an open mind, I believe you will find your patience well rewarded. I say, go for it!

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Ariel by Jonathan Dove
Performer:  Patricia Green (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1998 
The Princess of the Stars: Princess's Aria by R. Murray Schafer
Performer:  Patricia Green (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1981; Canada 
Arachne by Hilary Tann
Performer:  Patricia Green (Mezzo Soprano)
Written: 2002 
Exercises de Style: Excerpt(s) by José Evangelista
Performer:  Patricia Green (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997 
Einige Sätze aus den Sudelbüchern Georg Christoph Lichtenbergs, Op. 37 by György Kurtág
Performer:  Patricia Green (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996 
King Harald's Saga by Judith Weir
Performer:  Patricia Green (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1979; Scotland 

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