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Lori LAITMAN (b.1955)
Mystery – the Songs of Lori Laitman

The Metropolitan Tower and Other Songs – selections (1991-92)
Lauren Wagner (soprano)
Frederick Weldy (piano)
Mystery (1997-98)
William Sharp (baritone)
Lori Laitman (piano)
The Love Poems of Marichiko (1993 revised 1994)
Phyllis Bryn-Julson (soprano)
Thomas Kraines (cello)
The Ballad Singer

William Sharp (baritone)
Lori Laitman (piano)
I Never Saw Another Butterfly

Lauren Wagner (soprano)
Gary Louie (saxophone)
Days and Nights

Phyllis Bryn-Julson (soprano)
Seth Knopp (piano)
Recorded 1992-99
ALBANY TROY 393 [63.16]


Lori Laitman, Yale graduate, originally wrote for film and theatre but for over a decade now has concentrated on the voice. I’ve reviewed a couple of her songs in the context of a Gasparo mixed recital of settings of Emily Dickinson by American composers. We cover some ground in this collection, which starts with her first art song, The Metropolitan Tower, a number of settings of a favoured poet of Laitman’s, Sara Teasdale (1884-1933). Elsewhere she sets Christina Rossetti and Robert Browning. There’s a single setting of Hardy (The Ballad-Singer) and a cycle of poems written by children at Terezin, I Never Saw Another Butterfly.

Responsiveness to the text might seem like a given but Laitman demonstrates that hers is particularly acute. Note the way she stresses the words voice and hands climactically (the voice ascending powerfully) in her setting of the 1922 poem by Teasdale, The Hours. She is able to bring stylistic breadth as well as in the syncopated bluesy vamp of To A Loose Woman (in which a woman is ticked off by another for riding the crest of fashion…. And you have dared to call it passion.") The cycle Mystery, which gives the disc its title is also to poems by Teasdale. One, Nightfall, is Finzi-like in its lyrical identification and nostalgia. It is noteworthy how the treble flecked ending catches the poem’s last line And stars come out in the skies – there’s something magical about it. Despite her sombre settings Laitman by no means abjures humour. She can spin ebullient tra-la-las and Spanish rhythms as well as mining thought-provoking concentration in a song such as I Sit At My Desk. Her Terezin cycle contrasts strongly with Holocaust 1944 on her album Dreaming, also on Albany. Written for soprano and saxophone, which imparts a klezmer-like spirit to the music, these are settings by children, some anonymous, some not. The fact that the children, so far as is known, all died in Auschwitz is reason enough for gravity but this cycle as a whole is less unrelieved than I Sit At My Desk. There are strong folk elements and moments of what Primo Levi would call reprieve. Nevertheless what one remembers most from the cycle are moments such as the repeated line rotting in silence from the final setting, The Old House. Days and Nights comes as a contrast – a cycle with a witty tango (Laitman has a talent for juxtapositions) and a real appreciation of Emily Dickinson’s quirkiness. This must account for the wildly uneven tone of this cycle; try the wild shrieks in Wild Nights.

Performances are dedicated but sometimes variable. Phyllis Bryn-Julson is the strongest interpreter, consistently engaging. Full texts, dedications and details of premieres are given and Laitman has written the notes. At her best – and I don’t think she’s at her best in Rossetti or Hardy – Laitman strikes a vein of melancholy and quicksilver that catches the spirit of these poems in a way that is both involving and provocative.

Jonathan Woolf

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