Notes and Editorial Reviews
THE HOURS BEGIN TO SING
Lisa Delan (sop);
Kristin Pankonin (pn);
Matt Haimovitz (vc);
David Krakauer (cl);
Maxim Rubtsov (fl)
PENTATONE 5186459 (SACD: 78:49
Text and Translation)
class="ARIAL12bi">From the Book of Nightmares.
Three Irish Folksong Settings.
Four Emily Dickinson Songs.
Rumi: Quatrains of Love.
Five Cabaret Songs
This fascinating album combines the music of six diverse American composers into one long and fascinating recital by soprano Delan, who has an interesting if somewhat monotonous voice and slightly nasal, covered tone. Happily, the music is far from monotonous; in fact, it is refreshingly diverse, starting off with what is, to my ears, the best composition I’ve heard yet from the pen of Jake Heggie. His song cycle derives from
The Book of Nightmares
by author Galway Kinnell, particularly from the section titled “Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight.” The music, like the words, is as much whimsical as it is reflective of nightmare states, with the cello part scored very high up and interacting as much with the soprano voice as with the piano. The music follows the speech patterns of the words, which makes for fascinating listening, but here I found Delan’s diction unclear so that I needed the lyrics in the booklet in order to understand what she was singing.
We then hear the
of David Garner, originally composed for mezzo Sylvie Braitman-Chourak. The words, written in Yiddish and based on poems written in the Vilna ghetto during the 1940s and 1950s, reflect the city’s large Jewish population, and the clarinet part is clearly based on klezmer music, though not always in a light-hearted vein. There is great sadness and longing in the songs “In the Jail Cell” and “Execution,” while “Under Your White Stars” and “Playthings” are more whimsical, “How?” a curious, questioning song. Oddly, Delan’s pronunciation of the Yiddish text is clearer than her English.
This setting of three Irish folk songs by John Corigliano was originally premiered in 1988 by tenor Robert White. They include three of the most famous, “The Salley Gardens,” “The Foggy Dew” (these being the music and lyrics that John McCormack sang, not the ones sung by Peter Pears, apparently a British “Foggy Dew”), and “She Moved Through the Fair,” and Corigliano’s music is unusually (for him) spacious and atmospheric. Here, too, Delan’s English diction is somewhat clearer than in the Heggie songs, and she phrases here with exquisite lyricism and nice shading of the voice which she does not use in the previous songs on this disc. Corigliano’s setting of “The Foggy Dew” comprises, like Britten’s setting
of The Last Rose of Summer
, of reconstructed harmonies, retaining the melody of the original. I was particularly delighted by Rubtsov’s flute playing here, appropriately buoyant and airy.
Following this is Getty’s settings of four Emily Dickinson songs, and here—even more strongly than in the previous works—the flow of the music is more dictated by the flow of the words than vice versa. The result is more strophic music, fascinating in its tension and release from phrase to phrase, clearly the work of a mature composer in full control of his material. They are not, however, the same Dickinson songs by Getty that I heard back in the late 1980s (see review below): these were not put into final musical shape, the composer mentions in the notes, until soprano Barbara Bonney “kindly asked for a few songs to verse by an American poetess.” Getty’s music, here, has the fine delicacy of Dresden china and a rhythmic quirkiness fully in keeping with Dickinson’s equally quirky word-painting, and nowhere is this clearer than in the final song, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” I was particularly struck, in these performances, by the appropriately airy and delicate traceries of Pankonin’s pianism.
Luna Pearl Woolf’s setting of 10 quatrains by the Sufi poet Rumi begins with one song that is sung
, “Do you think I know what I’m doing?” This song was evidently recorded in a different acoustic from the rest of the disc, giving Delan’s voice much more reverberance, with the overtones of her voice overlapping one another in an interesting way. The music, lyrical and tonal, is well-crafted but, to my ears, the least original piece on the album. This is not to take anything away from their attractiveness to the ear, merely to point out that they follow an established modern-day song-writing formula. One exception is “When I die, lay out the corpse,” where the slow, stuttering melodic progression arrests one with its unusual progression, interrupted at the end by a high rhythmic figure sung by the soprano on the words “If I open my eyes.”
The disc ends with William Bolcom’s five cabaret songs, inspired (whether in fantasy or reality is not made clear from the liner notes) by a visit in the 1950s that “Arnold” (no last name given) paid to his friend Willem de Kooning, where the pair, and “Bill’s brother” (again not identified) had come to visit from Rotterdam, reminiscing “about the bohemian life in their home city in the 1930s.” The four songs are “The Song of Black Max,” apparently a picturesque character of the old days, “as told by the de Kooning boys;” “Can’t Sleep, At the Last Lousy Moments of Love,” “Angels are the Highest Form of Love,” and “George,” the latter about a transvestite cabaret performer. The music is quintessential Bolcom, which is to say based on one of the great loves of his life (ragtime) yet with his typically quirky melodic-rhythmic displacement. Within the context of this song cycle, however, one can say that “Can’t Sleep” is the most creative piece, moving away from his Kurt Weill-type ragtime style and instead pursuing a more impressionistic vein. Except for its very quirky melody, which an untrained singer would find very difficult to sing, “At the Last Lousy Moment of Love” sounds a bit like the kind of material that Sally Bowles would have sung in
Here, once again, Delan’s diction is somewhat clearer, and yet again she colors and shades the voice very well.
All in all, then, an excellent song recital and a disc well worth acquiring. All of these pieces are good, with pride of place going to the Heggie and Getty song cycles.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Vilna Poems by David Garner
Kristin Pankonin (Piano),
Lisa Delan (Soprano),
Matt Haimovitz (Cello),
David Krakauer (Clarinet)
Three Irish Folk Songs by John Corigliano
Lisa Delan (Soprano),
Maxim Rubstov (Flute)
Period: 20th Century
Rumi "Quatrains of Love" by Luna Pearl Woolf
Matt Haimovitz (Cello),
Lisa Delan (Soprano),
Kristin Pankonin (Piano)
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