I must admit this is not the genre of CD that I would normally review. It is not that I do not like sopranos or songs by Germans, French and American composers. I do! It is just that these rarely come my way. Yet I am glad an exception was made with this truly inspirational disc: I have enjoyed every moment of it and have found each track both a delight and more often than not an eye-opener.
I first got in touch with Susan Kane by way of her magnificent
contribution to the subject of British art songs or lieder. She
is the author of an exceptionally well-argued and fascinating
thesis on the life, times and music of Liza Lehmann. Unfortunately
this essential document has not been turned into a book. I hope
that one day soon it will be. It was not until some months later
I discovered that Miss Kane was also an accomplished soprano and
had just released this present CD - her first. Unfortunately,
I was too late to enjoy the launch drinks and nibbles in L.A.!
This disc is conceived as a journey – for both the singer and the listener. More than that, it is an education. Event the briefest of glances at the track-listing reveals a wide range of interest, styles and moods. Many of these numbers are totally new to me, and I guess, to many listeners as well, on both sides of the Pond.
Susan Kane quotes the great American poet, Walt Whitman as the inspiration for this selection: it bears quoting –
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loaf and invite my soul,
I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
It was this text that allowed Susan Kane to work out a track-listing that reflected her own interest and her personal tastes. She writes in her ‘blog’:-
“I wondered if an American singer should only sing American music. I wondered [what] truly would be an authentic expression of myself as a singer and as a human member of this planet. How could I deny that I am born and raised in the US? To go further, born and raised in the midwest. I went to Taos, New Mexico, to contemplate all the possibilities. I was raised to perform folk songs and Christmas carols, hymns and patriotic songs. I was trained to sing Italian opera and French art song and German Lieder. I was trained to sing old renaissance madrigals, baroque cantatas, classical arias, romantic songs, and modern repertoire from classical composers. But who am I as an artist?”
This present CD answers these questions in a convincing manner. It is an interesting and often moving journey.
Susan Kane is rightly proud of her American Heritage. At least six of the songs on this CD were written by American composers – with the Korngold being an honorary seventh – he became a naturalised American in 1943. Talking of Korngold, the stunning ‘Mariettas Lied zur Laute’ from Die Tote Stadt
must be one of the most beautiful arias in all opera literature. This song, which must have resonated with contemporary post-Great War audiences in 1920, tells a story of love, but is coloured by a certain sadness. For life and love are surely transitory.
Kane is a great advocate for music written by women and here there
are fine songs by the French composer Cécile Chaminade, Fanny
Hensel and Sara Carina Graef. The Chaminade song is a rare treat:
one that I had not heard before and which is typically French.
The Hensel not unexpectedly nods to Mendelssohn and is a strong
and well presented song. Susan Graef’s piece is the most complex
and modern on this CD – yet is thoroughly enjoyable. She is not
a composer that is generally known outside the USA.
The song Be Still as you are Beautiful
by the American John Duke is a moving song that explores some beautiful harmonies and has a reflective melody. The somewhat spare texture of Ned Rorem gives a passionate exposition to Silver Song
and Aaron Copland’s early Pastorale
is truly enigmatic.
Fortunately Joseph Marx is being largely rehabilitated at the present and nowhere is his achievement more obvious in this miniature Selige Nacht
. And lastly the Handel is great. I had heard Cleopatra’s ‘Piangerò, la sorte mia’ from Giulio Cesare
before, although I have not seen a performance of the opera. It is a welcome choice here.
One or two down sides: I found the CD cover very hard to read
due to the script-like font and the somewhat ‘imaginative’ background
that it is printed on. Furthermore, I would have liked some details
of the composers, especially those I do not know about such as
Graef, Duke and Gordon. I had to search on the Internet for all
personal dates and the publication date of the each piece. Perhaps
a copy of the text (where out of copyright) would have been helpful
Susan Mohini Kane does not have a ‘big’ voice – she is no Anne
Sofie von Otter, Renée Fleming or Montserrat Caballé. She is more
at home in the middle to lower ranges of her voice. Yet the added
value that she brings to these songs is a crystal-clearness of
tone, her undoubted enthusiasm and minute attention to detail.
Additionally she backs up her singing career with scholarly erudition.
Her accompanist Kristof Van Gryspeer is always sympathetic and
responsive to both Kane’s voice and the wide variety of moods
and styles represented on this CD.
This is a CD to enjoy in the company of a gifted and enthusiastic singer: it explores ground rarely traversed by better known artists. A singular pleasure.