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No. 41 - Classical Music - August, 2003

Jason Serinus


 

For a few words about my reviewing process and preferences, please see the introduction to Music Reviews No. 36.


 
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Glière: Symphony No. 3 “Il’ya Murometz”

London Symphony Orchestra/Leo Botstein, cond

Telarc Surround SACD-60609

 

 

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Introducing Il’ya Murometz, “complete and uncut,” just as Reinhold Glière (1875-1956) wished you to hear his symphony about the mythical marvel named Murometz. Behold 72 minutes of seductive bombast about an innocent Russian superhero of enormous physical strength who fought evil, defended the simple folk, spoke up to authority, and first waved his sword a good 1000 years before Clark Kent shed his garb in a phone booth. If in the end his musical representation doesn’t have much substance, it nonetheless showcases him so spectacularly attired in Telarc high-resolution sound that even the most jaded will find themselves seduced by the glitz.

Glière, who publicly tutored students as professor at the Moscow Conservatory while privately teaching the young Sergei Prokoviev, was anything but a musical revolutionary. Considered the bearer of the classical tradition both before and after the Communist revolution, his nationalistic works were praised and studied in the USSR as examples of a successful union between Eastern folklore and central European form. In no danger of condemnation by Stalin, he was a member of many official committees and was lauded as a People’s Artist of the USSR. If his well-know ballets such as The Red Poppy (1927) and Taras Bulba (1952), and his oft-played “Hymn for the Great City” excerpted from his ballet The Bronze Horseman (1949), and his numerous works in other mediums in the end fail to reveal an individual voice, they nonetheless contain enough rousing music to provide a classical evening’s alternative to the formulaic melodies of Madonna, Britney Spears and crew.

Il’ya Murometz was written between 1909 and 1911. An attempt to create a picturesque nationalistic epic, its programmatic content seems more than coincidentally reminiscent of the Romantic tone poems of Richard Strauss with a little Wagner, Borodin, and Glazunov thrown in. The first movement, entitled “Wandering Pilgrims: Il’ya Murometz and Svyaatogor,” introduces our hero. The son of a peasant, Il’ya spends his first thirty years immobile, warming himself atop a household stove until two ancient holy men get him off his tail by predicting that he will become a powerful knight errant (bogatyr). When Il’ya inherits the knight errant Svyatogor’s powers, he mounts his mighty steed, leaping over rivers and lakes. As his horse’s tail sweeps away whole cities as it passes, the music builds to climaxes impressive enough to replace ennui with wonder.

The 20-minute second movement andante, “Il’ya Murometz and Solovei the Brigand,” offers much beauty with its orchestral birdcalls (no Messaien dissonance here), mock animal cries, and sensual portrayal of Murometz’s seduction by the daughters of the supernatural Solovei. If these gals can’t build up the erotic charge of Strauss’ Salome, and the music’s exoticism can’t touch that of the French impressionists, this movement nonetheless contains much undeniable beauty.

Unless your ancient Russian blood has already been set aboil, you probably don’t give a damn about the stories that inspire Glière’s third and fourth movements. Suffice it to say that the third offers lots of wondrous excitement, while the tremendous triumph communicated in the fourth’s portrayal of Murometz’s heroic deeds will shake the rafters and drive evil spirits from your door. You may not remember any of the tunes, but you’ll undoubtedly mutter “wow” as you move on to the ten o’clock news. This disc sounds fabulous in a good two-channel set-up; in superior SACD format, and especially in surround sound, it should provide a satisfying sonic alternative to another home theater evening of gut-shaking brutality and gratuitous violence.

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Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn)

Bonney, Goerne

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Chailly

Decca 2894673482

 

 

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Having recently interviewed baritone Matthias Goerne in conjunction with his April Boston Symphony Orchestra performance of eight songs from Gustav Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn orchestral song cycle [see the Secrets archives], it is most gratifying to discover him delivering Mahler with the same mesmerizing sensitivity and vocal beauty that he brought to his recent recording of Franz Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin. And while the baritone’s extremely slow tempi for some of the Schubert songs have wowed some critics while dismaying others, few will question that his Mahler interpretations are well nigh ideal.

Des Knaben Wunderhorn was originally the title of a large collaborative collection of poems written in German folk style by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano. Published in 1805 and 1808, the poems first came to Mahler’s attention in the early or mid 1880’s, when he was in his early or mid twenties. From 1888 to 1902, he wrote no less than two-and-a-half volumes of songs inspired by the collection. So important were the Wunderhorn poems to his output that the song “Urlicht” (Primeval Light) became the fourth movement of his Symphony No. 2, “Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt” (St. Anthony of Padua Preaches to the Fish” served as the basis of its third movement scherzo, and “Das himmlische Leben” (The Heavenly Life) became the final movement of his Symphony No. 4.

According to Goerne, some of the Wunderhorn songs were an attempt on Mahler’s part to criticize the growing militarism in Europe. Unfortunately, the baritone asserts, “Mahler’s creation was not strong enough. It was impossible in this period to make the kind of anti-war criticism in music that was later possible for Berg, Schoenberg, Eisler, Weill and Brecht… The words are incredible, but in the end, the climax of the harmonies is so strong that everyone forgets what you are telling them. The settings are so beautiful musically that they kill the effect of the texts.”

Be that as it may, few vocal lovers will miss the bite of the line “I can and will not be merry!” with which baritone and orchestra launch the opening “Der Schildwache Nachtlied” (The Sentinel’s Night Song). Here, as in many of the Wunderhorn songs based on a poetic dialogue between “He” and “She,” Goerne sings both parts, balancing the manly thrust of “his” martial tone with a gorgeous softening on “her” final sustained high note.

Soprano Barbara Bonney sings the jolly second song, “Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?” (Who made up this ditty?) plus four others. The choice of a soprano rather than mezzo to sing all but one of the songs here assigned to female voice is certainly valid – soprano Lucia Popp sings on recordings by Bernstein (his digital remake) and Tennstedt, and Jessye Norman does the honors for Haitink -- but the energy Bonney brings to the cycle is less satisfying than that of lustrous mezzo Christa Ludwig (Bernstein) or Anne Sophie von Otter (Abbado).

Bonney certainly knows how to negotiate her low notes, and to lighten her voice to lovely effect on mids and highs. Marvelous in “Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen” (When the shining trumpets are blasting), which she sings raptly with moving subtlety and care, she just misses the mark elsewhere. A case in point is the glorious extended vocal movement that concludes Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. Bonney’s interpretation of this child’s view of heavenly paradise swings between welcome naïve sweetness and inappropriate maturity, as though she isn’t exactly sure of whom she is. (Listen to the young Kathleen Battle for an ideal performance of this movement). There’s certainly much to admire, but far less to cherish.

No such case with Goerne. The man is brilliant. With a voice alternately virile and achingly tender, he gifts Mahler’s creation with the steady flow of beauty it deserves. Chailly provides fine, transparent accompaniment, and mezzo Sara Fulgoni and tenor Gosta Winbergh do well with the one song each assigned to them. But ultimately it’s Goerne’s show, and Mahler is all the better for it.

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David Diamond: Symphony No. 1, Violin Concerto No. 2, and The Enormous Room Fantasia for Orchestra
Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz
Naxos 8.559157

David Diamond: Psalm, Kaddish for Cello and Orchestra (1987), Symphony No. 3
Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz
Naxos 8.559157

 

 

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SPOTLIGHT ON DAVID DIAMOND

One of the more prolific American composers of the last century, David Diamond turned 88 on July 9. Although he has never achieved the mass popularity and acceptance of such well-known 20th century American compatriots as Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein he has created an impressive body of finely crafted work whose tuneful romanticism and ruminative feel continue to win converts.

Bargain label Naxos has recently released two discs of Diamond’s orchestral works as part of their indispensable American Classics series; another two discs are forthcoming. All are reissues of Seattle Symphony performances recorded for Delos in the early 1990s, and the Seattle Symphony conducted by long-time Diamond champion Gerard Schwarz.

Diamond’s association with the Seattle Symphony dates back almost 30 years; he remains their Honorary Composer in Residence. While new liner notes have been prepared for Naxos, they include quotes from interviews with Diamond printed in full in the original Delos brochures.

The first disc (Naxos 8.559155) features two “ritual” works, Psalm (1936) and Kaddish for Cello and Orchestra (1987), plus Symphony No. 3 (1945). Psalm was first performed in 1936 by the Rochester Philharmonic, conducted by composer Howard Hanson; Kaddish was first heard at the Seattle Symphony 54 years later, with Gerard Schwarz conducting cello soloist Yo-Yo Ma. This disc, like the first release in the original Delos series, entered the Top 10 on the Billboard Classical Chart of best-selling discs, and won accolades from Gramophone and the Chicago Tribune. 

Despite over 50 years between them, the two ritual works share a stoic sadness that reflects Diamond’s take on the suffering of the Jewish people. Psalm is very dramatic, featuring huge slams of percussion and much modern-sounding dissonance. The work was dedicated to André Gide, and inspired by a visit to Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Paris. Diamond met Gide shortly after he arrived in Paris, maintaining a friendship that included the two of them playing Bach, Chopin, and ultimately a four-hand arrangement of Psalm on the piano.

Kaddish, which Diamond terms his own “concept” of the traditional melodies of the Hebrew Prayer for the Dead and of Hebrew cantilation, is quite poignant and elegiac. Though Diamond wrote the work for Yo-Yo Ma at the urging of Gerard Schwarz, Ma’s contractual obligations to Sony resulted in the substitution of cellist Janos Starker when the recording was made in the Seattle Opera House.

In his 1991 interview, Diamond stated that he had admired Starker’s playing for years. “It was interesting, fascinating even, to hear the differences in interpretations. Mr. Ma’s was extremely tensile, fervent; Mr. Starker’s is mellow, deeply moving in its expressivity, completely relaxed. I love both interpretations.”

The Symphony No. 3 was premiered in 1950. As in much of Diamond’s work, the opening Allegro deciso is marked by lots of forward momentum and vigorous activity. The Andante’s sweet, flowing sadness culminates magically, transforming into a far more joyful Allegro vivo. The final Adagio assai features lovely lyricism, with a beautiful elegiac ending.

The second disc (Naxos 8.559157) offers Diamond’s Symphony No. 1 (1941), Violin Concerto No. 2 (1947), and The Enormous Room Fantasia for Orchestra (1948). Diamond’s first mature symphony was written under the influence of his teacher Nadia Boulanger (who seems to have trained just about every notable American composer of Diamond’s era); it was championed by conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos, who premiered it with the New York Philharmonic Society in Carnegie Hall on December 21, 1941. The work begins quite aggressively, transitioning into a graceful Andante and majestic conclusion.

Though Diamond wrote the Violin Concerto No. 2 in 1947, it received only one 1948 performance until Gerard Schwarz triumphed over legal entanglements to unearth it in 1991. This is a most beautiful work, with flights of lyric fancy that prove quite irresistible. Violinist Ilkka Talvi, currently concertmaster of the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York’s Lincoln Center, begins astringently, but settles in to deliver an affectingly sweet performance, especially tender in the middle movement Adagio.

Diamond describes The Enormous Room as a lyrical symphonic “free-form fantasia” based on the snow scene in E.E. Cummings’ book of the same name. The work proceeds from what Cummings terms “a new and beautiful darkness’” to a closing filled with “things new and curious and hard and strange and vibrant and immense.” Like the Violin Concerto No. 2, this is a beautiful work that deserves a place on today’s symphonic programs.

In the early 1990s, Delos was way ahead of other labels in their mastery of digital recording technique. While today’s best engineering is more transparent and richer sounding, there is an impressive amount of “air,” three-dimensionality and bass on these discs that add to the joy of discovery.

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Terry Riley: Cantos Desiertos

Alexandra Hawley, Flute

Jeffrey McFadden, Guitar

Naxos 8.559146

 

 

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When a super-budget label eschews the tried and true to issue the premiere recording of a work for flute/guitar duo by California composer Terry Riley, the acknowledged “Father of Minimalism,” it is time to take a listen. That the 25-minute Riley piece is framed by four other attractive flute/guitar works, all by living American composers, makes the disc essential listening for those drawn to this instrumental combination.

Riley long ago progressed beyond his ‘60’s period of stoned-out repetitive minimalism to a more embracing, melodic style that reflects 25 years of training and performance with North Indian classical singer Pandit Pran Nath. Riley’s long-time relationship with the innovative Kronos Quartet, begun when he met violinist David Harrington while teaching at Oakland’s Mills College, has further expanded his compositional palette. This diversity of influence – echt California in its blending of the Far East with the post-psychedelic West Coast avant garde – finds expression in the five flute and guitar pieces that comprise Cantos Desiertos.

Cantos Desiertos was commissioned by the Bay Area Avedis Chamber Music Series and guitarist David Tannenbaum. While Tannenbaum is unfortunately absent from this recording – he is most recently featured on Serenado (New Albion), a delicious disc of guitar works by the late Lou Harrison that includes Scenes from Nek Chand written expressly for Tannenbaum and premiered by him at the 2002 Other Minds Festival -- the Naxos performance is definitive by default because the flutist, Avedis founder Alexandra Hawley, performed the premiere with Tannenbaum at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

The five Cantos Desiertos are in turn part of the Book of Abbeyozzud, a 26-piece work that showcases the guitar either solo or in combination with other instruments. Each piece has a Spanish title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. If this lends Cantos Desiertos an inevitable Spanish flavor, the pieces also reflects Riley’s love of Indian music and jazz-like improvisation, and his unabashed pursuit of joy.

Cantos Desiertos, like many of Riley’s works recently heard at Berkeley’s Edge Festival of California composers, is music that can leave you cheering for more. The opening section, “Canción Desierto,” was inspired by a dance-like melody Riley learned from his long time friend and collaborator, Rajastani sitarist and composer Krishna Bhatt. The movement bubbles along with great rhythmic freedom, only to metamorphose into the subsequent “Quijote” (Dreamer). Things slow down temporarily with “Llanto” (Lament), but pick up with “Tango Ladeado” (Tango Sideways). The work ends with “Francesco in Paraiso” (Frank in Paradise), dedicated to French composer and countertenor Royon le Mee, who died from AIDS at age 40. Lest this sound like a downer of an ending, the final movement began as a piano and keyboard improvisation, while the preceding four works were written during a sunny family sojourn to Puerto Vallarta.

Two of the other works on the disc, Robert Beaser’s likeable Mountain Songs and Lowell Liebermann’s Sonata were variously commissioned by and dedicated to the flute/guitar duo of Paula Robison and Eliot Fisk. Beaser's Mountain Songs, based largely on American folk music melodies, is unfortunately short-changed in that only four of the eight songs receive performances. Though Hawley and McFadden play nicely, they pale beside the far more expressive duo of Susan Glaser and Franco Platino, who offer the complete Mountain Songs (Koch 3-7533-2 HI) on a 2002 release for which I wrote the liner notes. Glaser/Platino play the beautiful opening “Barbara Allen” significantly slower than their Naxos counterparts, rendering the song far more evocative. On “The House Carpenter,” Platino’s guitar is more incisive than McFadden’s, Glaser’s flute more intense than Hawley’s; only the Koch team creates the unsettled feel that Beaser wishes us to experience. In the final “Cindy,” Glaser rather than Hawley supplies the requisite swing, with Platino’s more closely recorded guitar more colorful than McFadden’s. The Naxos rendition is good enough to start your climb, but either Glaser/Platino or Robison/Fisk will take you to the top of Beaser’s oft-scaled opus.

New York City-born and Juilliard graduate Lowell Liebermann counts among his teachers David Diamond. Liebermann was nominated for the Prix Oscar Wilde by L’Association Oscar Wilde for his opera, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and received a Grammy nomination for his Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 36. Liebermann’s two movement Sonata for Flute and Guitar, Op. 25 proceeds from a dreamy Nocturne to a highly energized, virtuosic gigue of an Allegro. Both performers rise to the occasion.

[Those wishing to explore Liebermann’s work will want to experience the haunting mystery of his Sonata (1988) for flute and piano. It is one of six works on American Flute Music (Avie AV0004), a recital that pairs flutist Jeffrey Khaner with pianist Hugh Sung. I hope to review this disc later on].

Joan Tower, recipient of the American Symphony Orchestra League’s first Made in America commission, contributes the relatively short Snow Dreams. Written for flutist Carol Wincenc and guitarist Sharon Isbin, the intriguing piece becomes increasingly unsettled, metaphorically reflecting the progression from light snowflakes to heavy snowfalls. The disc ends with Peter Schickele’s Windows: Three Pieces for Flute and Guitar. While its conclusion gives the instrumentalists a real workout, I prefer to hear Peter Schickele in his other guise as P.D.Q. Bach. Regardless, for the other works on the program – most certainly the Riley – this disc is more than worth the asking price.

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Harry Partch: The Wayward

Newband, Dean Drummond music director; Stephen Kalm, Baritone; Robert Osborne, Bass-Baritone

Wergo WER 6638 2

 

 

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Just Guitars

John Schneider, Guitar and Vocals

Bridge 9132

 

 

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HARRY PARTCH: 20TH CENTURY MUSICAL ICONOCLAST

"The individual's "path cannot be retraced, for each of us is an original being."

-- Harry Partch

Harry Partch (1901-1974) was a true original: an enigmatic American composer, musical theorist, philosopher, instrument builder, hobo, and artist who left a body of work both provocative and perplexing. Not only did he (like his friend composer Lou Harrison) eschew traditional Western tunings to explore just tonality and microtonaltiy, but he also created dozens of fantastic instruments, mammoth dance/theater extravaganzas, and unique musical narratives based on everything from Greek mythology to his own experiences as a hobo.

Although little is known of the first 40 years of Partch’s life – when Lou Harrison suggested to Partch that he write his memoirs, Partch replied that many of his early memories, especially of his childhood, were too difficult to face – what Partch did say about himself he documented in his works Bitter Music, End Littoral, U.S. Highball; a rare interview with Studs Terkel; and passages recalling his childhood in the preface to the second edition of his book Genesis of a Music.

The Wergo recording features performances by the ensemble Newband. Formed in 1978 to explore music using microtonality and alternative tuning systems, Newband in 1990 received custodianship of the collection of Partch’s original instruments for which Partch composed most of his work. The ensemble’s conductor, Dean Drummond, is both director of the Harry Partch Instrumentarium and Professor of Music at Montclair State University.

The instruments, all tuned to just intonation, include the Chromelodeon I, a pedal-pumped reed organ with sub-bass adapted to play all the chromatic pitches in Partch’s 43-tone per octave source scale; the almost seven foot tall Kithara II, a hybrid harp/slide guitar consisting of 72 vertical guitar strings arranged in twelve rows each with six strings; and other such exotically named inventions as the Harmonic Canon, Bloboy, Diamond Marimba, Bamboo Marimba, Bass Marimba, Cloud Chamber Bowls, and Spoils of War. The latter is a collection of percussion effects suspended from a sculptural stand that doubles as resonator, named for the seven brass artillery casings that are tuned to fit step-wide in the space of a semitone.

The 43-minute disc features four pieces collectively known as The Wayward, which Partch described as “a collection of musical compositions based on the spoken and written words of hobos and other characters – the result of my wanderings in the Western part of the United States 1935-1941.” Originally created between 1941 and 1943 and extensively revised through 1967, the works exist in various arrangements, the last for Partch’s expanded collection of original instruments. The Wayward includes the famed eight hitchhiker transcriptions of Barstow, the San Francisco cries of two newsboys on a foggy night, The Letter depression message from a hobo friend, and the US Highball transcontinental hobo trip. All feature text superimposed over the exotic sounds of Partch’s instruments, with just intonation microtunings that seem to arise from an alternative sonic dimension.

Vocal soloists Stephen Kalm, baritone, and Robert Osborne, bass-baritone, variously recite and sing Partch’s words with an authoritative, out-there hobo accent. Short of a recording featuring Partch himself, this is about as definitive as you can get.

The Bridge disc features guitarist and vocalist Schneider performing 78 minutes of works written for guitar tuned to just intonation. In addition to first recordings of three vocal works by Partch – Letter from Hobo Pablo, December 1942, and Three Intrusions, all which consist of arrangements by Partch played by Schneider on Adapted Guitar and members of Just Strings on Kithara and Diamond Marimba, the disc includes works by Carter Scholz, Lou Harrison, Terry Riley, and Schneider himself. Though the claim that Harrison’s Scenes from Nek Chand for steel guitar is a first recording seems opportunistic – Harrison wrote the work for guitarist David Tannenbaum, who premiered it at San Francisco’s 2002 Other Minds Festival of New and Unusual Music and released what also claims to be the first recording on Serenado (New Albion NA 123) virtually a month after the Bridge disc reached my hands – the very fact of competitive recordings of one of the last works from Harrison’s pen is cause for celebration. Schneider’s vocals on the Partch works pale beside those on the Wergo disc, but that he gives us first recordings of Partch arrangements for adapted guitar is cause for gratitude.

What does one make of Partch’s autobiographically-inspired work? You may either find yourself fascinated and impelled to play it over and over, discover yourself submerged in another dimension, or dismiss it with a shrug. But one thing is certain. In an age of mind-numbing uniformity and predictable musical formulas, with popular “hits” increasingly predicted by sophisticated computer programming and political rhetoric that seems a doublespeak variation of same, those with open minds owe it to themselves to explore Partch’s genre.

Bob Gilmore, Partch’s first official biographer, asserts that while the composer is often described as a self-taught “natural genius,” he in fact studied twice for brief periods in the early 1920s at the University of Southern California, where he took piano lessons with the then well-known pianist Olga Steeb, and later briefly studied harmony and piano at the Kansas City Conservatory of Music. While Partch spent a number of years traveling around the country as a hobo, his composing was done either during breaks from this traumatic existence or after he had settled down. The eight hitchhiker inscriptions from a highway railing at Barstow, CA that comprise Barstow, the only completed composition from his traumatic hobo years, was written in a few weeks of relative peace after Partch took a trip in early 1940 in a “search for my soul.” U.S. Highball was composed in a room in Ithaca, NY, when he was working at a bookkeeping job for a "small scrap iron company" some eighteen months after the hobo trip it describes.  (For more information, see http://www.corporeal.com/, the website produced by Danlee Mitchell, Executive Director of the Harry Partch Foundation).

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A Quiet Thing

David Danels, Countertenor; Craig Ogden, Guitar

Virgin Classics CDC 7243 5 45601 2

 

 

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Though he has built his unprecedented international career as an countertenor on the rare technical assurance and emotional truth he brings to the rapid coloratura fireworks of Handel, Vivaldi and other baroque composers, David Daniels is equally prized for the honeyed, round tones that distinguish his introverted, legato singing. Nowhere can the beauty of his instrument and depth of his interpretations be appreciated more than on his latest CD, whose 19 songs consistently eschew showiness for intimacy..

In a phone interview conducted right after David had returned from grueling Paris recording sessions of Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été, he explained the genesis of A Quiet Thing.

“From the beginning of my career, I’ve tried to open up the doors of repertoire for my voice type, broadening ideas as to what’s possible for the countertenor voice. I had already recorded two or three Handel recitals, a couple of oratorios, an opera, and a song recital with piano; I wanted to do something different.

“Originally the disc was conceived to consist solely of American songs, but we changed the idea because the Virgin label is based in Paris. The American songs I was really passionate about were the ones I included: the Alec Wilder song, and then “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Shenandoah,” which I like especially well with guitar.

“It’s really important for me to maintain a sense of musical integrity. I wanted it to be a very intimate disc, accessible not only to the people who are fans of mine but also to people who don’t necessarily come to opera and classical music. But it isn’t just a collection of easy listening classical songs; there’s substance to it. I’m not going to sing music that I can’t bring something unique to.”

This critic heartily seconds Daniels’ assessment. John Kander’s “A Quiet Thing,” which opens the recital, is an ideal vehicle for David’s honeyed tone. It also establishes the feeling of relaxation and peace which deepens with the youthful freshness of Alec Wilder’s gorgeous “Blackberry Winter” and Leonard Bernstein’s gentle “So Pretty.”

The Bernstein, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, consists of a dialogue between a child and his teacher. The child questions the reasons we war against people far away, being told “they must die for peace, you understand.” “But they’re so pretty, so pretty” responds the child. “I don’t understand.”

While the song certainly strikes a chord, Daniels explained that he chose it before the Iraq invasion scenario unfolded. “I didn’t have a political subtext in mind. I thought it was appropriate for the boyish, white quality the countertenor voice can bring to it.”

Daniels next sings three Spanish songs from the 15th and 16 centuries. The high tessitura of Francisco de la Torre’s “Pampano verde” especially benefits from the countertenor’s soaring soulfulness; it also displays his perfect legato. Ogden’s well-recorded guitar punctuates vocal phrases with an ideally artful smoothness. And Daniels’ high note on Gabriel Mena’s “A la cara” is one to savor long after the performance has concluded.

After familiar works by Dowland and Purcell, Daniels sings three gorgeous Bellini songs. I must confess that I have often considered the songs of Bellini and Donizetti inferior to their operatic achievements. But with a singer of Daniels’ (or Bartoli’s) caliber, these songs shine like gems.

I could have done without the treacle of Bernstein’s “A Simple Song,” and wish the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria” were sung a half step higher. But the simple beauty of Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer,” the classic “Shenandoah,” and Martini’s “Plaisir d’amour” provide a welcome conclusion to a gorgeous disc.

 

- Jason Serinus -

© Copyright 2003 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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