And if the Song be Worth a Smile
William BOLCOM (b.1938)
Four Cabaret Songs (1977-85) [12:40]
Gordon GETTY (b.1933)
Poor Peter (2008) [9:43]
Jake HEGGIE (b.1961)
Four Songs (1994-96) [12:17]
David GARNER (b.1954)
Annettes-Lieder (1986) [14:15]
John CORIGLIANO (b.1938)
Two Cabaret Songs (1997 & 2001) [9:22]
Luna Pearl WOOLF (b.1973)
Odas de Todo el Mundo [10:14]
Lisa Delan (soprano)
Susanne Mentzer (mezzo) (Heggie); Matt Heimovitz (cello) (Heggie,
Garner, Woolf); Kristin Pankonin (piano)
rec. Skywalker Sound, San Rafael, California - dates not given.
5186 099 [68:45]
This is a nicely programmed, very well performed and very decently recorded production indeed. I’m always a little uncomfortable with the ‘Art Song’ category - not because of the songs, but because of the name. For me, there are good songs and less good songs: art or aria, pop or folk. I can understand how the cultural elite might want to separate ‘high culture’ from ‘low culture’ - as Tom Lehrer said, “the reason most folk songs are so atrocious is that they were written by the people.” ‘The People’ on the other hand, probably think most art songs are atrocious because they don’t have any tunes, so we’re back where we started - it all depends what you are looking for. If you want tunes to hum on the way to work or shanties to help you scrub the deck of a ship you won’t find them here, but you will find some highly entertaining music which can tickle the imagination and widen the horizons.
The general atmosphere here is one of more or less wistful nostalgia. If you like the fresh open plains of Aaron Copeland’s more popular orchestral hits then you’ll have something of an idea about many of these songs. Cabaret Songs to me suggest something with a bit more zip however, and indeed, the first of William Bolcom’s set of four, Amor, has a nice jazzy feel. Lisa Delan has a wide expressive range, and almost brings off the jazz idiom without quite being able to abandon her more naturally operatic tones. Songs like Oh Close the Curtain show her to be a very able communicator, from the quite intimacy of the beginning to the variety of colours as the text develops - parental guidance words included. Waitin has the kind of sublime simplicity which American composers do so well, and the last of the four, Toothbrush Time, is like an episode of Friends - the one with the terrible boyfriend. Lisa Delan’s NYC telephone voice is like a buzz-saw - wonderful!
I won’t do a rundown of every song here, but there are some lovely highlights to be savoured. Gordon Getty’s set of three songs Poor Peter is well crafted, with some stamping and clapping in Tune the Fiddle. The disc’s title text appears in the last of the three, The Ballad of Poor Peter, but I found the soloist’s vibrato a bit hard to take at the end of many of the lines in that particular song. Matt Haimovitz’s rich cello tones join for Jake Heggie’s My true-love hath my heart, as well as Susanne Mentzer’s mezzo - a full-on romantic onslaught but a useful change in sonority. Heggie’s work is grounded in tradition, three of the pieces being settings of folk songs: two laden with soulful melancholy, The Leather Winged Bat laden with up-beat misery and ‘Hi-o day-o diddle-o-down’s.
Sung in German but with English translations in the booklet, David Garner’s Annettes-Lieder are small masterpieces, again with an understated cello part supporting the gently undulating piano of Im Grase (In the Meadow), and with rough passion in Am Turme (On the Tower).
John Corigliano’s Dodecaphonia is a witty cabaret song, the tale of a dark gumshoe pursuing ‘Twelve-Tone Rose’ - all the way to post-modern minimalism. Marvellous Invention is another fun narrative, throwing all of your favourite artists into a mirror of all our obsessions with recorded music - there can’t be many songs which rhyme Emanuel Ax with Arnold Bax! The programme ends with the dramatic, high-octane symbolism of Luna Pearl Woolf’s substantial Odes for Everyone on a text by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
All in all, this is a highly commendable release. Lisa Delan’s frequently fruity soprano might not be to everyone’s taste, but she has enough sensitivity and flexibility to make some remarkable and surprising leaps of emotional expression, and the whole this is an entertaining and stimulating recital. The recorded acoustic is on the dry side, and the SACD effect serves to envelop you naturally in sound without too much in the way of spectacular tricks. Kristin Pankonin’s piano playing is highly sympathetic and has plenty of ‘swing’ where required. If you are looking for a one-stop collection of recent top-notch American art songs, this is probably as good a place to go as any.