Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

OTTO LUENING (1900-1996)
The songs (30) of Otto Luening written between 1917 and 1993
Judith Bettina (sop) James Goldsworthy (piano) Susan Palma-Nidel (flute)
rec Sept 1999, NYC

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1 She walks in Beauty (Byron) (1951) (2:20)
2 A Farm Picture (Whitman) (1929) (0:37) )
3 The Little Vagabond (Blake) (1980) (2:26) )
4 Young Love (Blake) (1928) (1:06) )
5 Wake the serpent not (Shelley) (1928) (1:31) )
6 Requiescat (Wilde) (1917) (2:27) )
7 Venilia (Sharpe) (1922) (1:53) )
8 Locations and Times (Whitman) (1928) (0:59) )
9 Noon Silence (Sharpe) (1922) (1:14) )
10 Visor'd (Whitman) (1928) (1:22) )
11 Infant Joy (Blake) (1928) (1:17) )
12 Good-night (Shelley) (1929) (1:42) )
13 I faint, I perish (Shelley) (1929) (1:07) )
14 Transience (Naidu) (1922) (2:14) )
15 At Christmas time (Translation by Hesse) (1917) (1:31) )
16 In Weihnachtszeiten (Hesse) (1917) (1:31) )
17 Ach! wer bringt die sch-nen Tage (Goethe) (1928) (1:50)*
Songs of Emily Dickinson (1942-51) )
18 Our share of night to bear (1:11) )
19 "Hope" is the thing with feathers (1:25) )
20 If I can stop one Heart from breaking (1:20) )
21 Experiment to me (1:00) )
22 I felt a Cleaving in my Mind (0:39) )
23 Soul, Wilt thou toss again? (0:59) )
24 When I hoped I feared (0:59) )
25 Love's Secret (Blake) (1949) (2:41) )
26 The Harp the Monarch Minstrel swept (Byron) (1951) (2:17)
Joyce Cycle (text from James Joyce's "Chamber Music") (1993)
27 Strings in the earth and air (1:35) )
28 When the shy star goes forth in heaven (2:08) )
29 My love is in a light attire (0:51) )
30 Sleep now (2:17)

This disc comes in the wake of the more generously timed selection of Luening and Starer songs from Parnassus. The CRI CD has, however, the virtue of a single focus: Luening and nothing else.

The songs are scattered throughout his long career. In their hymn-like and sometimes Warlockian simplicity they create a strange contrast with his experimental avant-garderie of the 1950s and 1960s when he not merely toyed with electronic music but embraced it whole-heartedly. There were earlier dodecaphonic works but these had somehow dropped into the background. The songs might also be reckoned alongside those of Benjamin Britten, or, yet more directly, with Arthur Bliss's Seven American Poems.

The songs set classic texts by Goethe, Hesse, Shelley, Blake, Joyce, Byron and Emily Dickinson. The Goethe and Hesse poems are set to the original German texts.

The songs were written over a long time.The earliest is a German setting of 1917, the latest being the 1993 Joyce cycle. The style is remarkably consistent with a touch of wandering tonality here and there e.g. in When the shy star goes forth (track 28). The first and last songs on the disc could easily become popular - fine but unpretentious favourites in much the same way The Salley Gardens and Great Things.

Bettina is, in general, in good voice and sings with informed intelligence never letting the meaning of the words fall away. Her tendency towards stridency, noted particularly in the Dickinson songs, takes a little of the gloss off these otherwise satisfying performances. She is alertly accompanied by Goldsworthy. The greater playing time and the variety involved in mixing songs by Starer and Luening would cause me to lean in preference towards the Parnassus collection.

This is certainly a good collection. It is only a pity that more songs could not have been accommodated. At 48.11 there was room for at least another twenty minutes.

The disc is enriched by full texts and by Jack Beeson's programme notes. CRI's attention to design is faultless. I would like to pay tribute to CRI's design team who never allow the presentation to obscure the words.

A most worthwhile disc.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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