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American Orchestral Song
Virgil THOMSON (1896-1989)
The Feast of Love (1964) [9:08]
John Alden CARPENTER (1876-1951)
Watercolors (1915) [10:35]
Roy HARRIS (1898-1979)
Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun (1959) [14:39]
Charles Tomlinson GRIFFES (1884-1920)
Five Poems of Ancient China and Japan, Op. 10 (1915) [8:42]
Horatio PARKER (1863-1919)
Cahal Mor of the Wine-Red Hand, Op. 40 (1893) [14:14]
Patrick Mason (baritone)
Odense Symphony Orchestra/Paul Mann
rec. 11-18 June 2007, Carl Nielsen Hall, Odense Conzerthus, Denmark. DDD
BRIDGE 9254 [57:56]
Experience Classicsonline

Bridge keep a low profile so you might be forgiven for knowing little about them. Have a look at their website. They have eleven volumes of the music of Crumb, four of Stefan Wolpe, six of Elliott Carter, three of Mario Davidovsky, two of Stephen Jaffe, four of Poul Ruders, and a speckle of Wuorinen, Imbrie, Wernick, Lerdahl, Riegger, Perle, Lansky, Machover, Schuller, Bland, Harbison, Feldman and much else. I should also mention their 20+ volumes of historic Library of Congress chamber recordings and their enterprisingly open-minded reissues of Karl Krueger’s 1960s SPAMH analogue tapes of American orchestral music of the 19th-20th centuries – vital if this song collection enthuses you . House artists with a strong representation in the Bridge lists include Garrick Ohlsson, Bennett Lerner, Lambert Orkis and David Starobin.

Virgil Thomson is represented by The Feast of Love, music very different from the clever folksy-populist collage of the Pare Lorentz scores of the 1930s - The Plow that Broke the Plains and The River (also recorded by Kapp). This is more akin to the unashamed romanticism of Autumn for harp and strings (see review). With its gawky fascinating rhythmic setting of parts of the Pervigilium Veneris - the same sensuous poem set by George Lloyd – we encounter a Thomson adopting an idiom recalling Copland's Old American Songs but with a dash or ten of Finzi along the way (3:02). Carpenter wrote several song-cycles including one setting songs from Gitanjali several of which were recorded by Rose Bampton. Carpenter’s songs with piano are sampled at length on Albany TROY388. This one is subtly coloured and contoured with a Gallic accent that coasts very close to Ravel in On a Screen and to the lapidary orchestration of Canteloube in The Odalisque. There’s also an undertow from Coleridge-Taylor and even Ketèlbey. Highwaymen is Carpenter in the grand manner of Turandot, indeed Puccini must have registered strongly with Carpenter. Yet at 2:15 onwards the music breaks into a jazzy outburst that recurs. The final song To a Young Gentleman is instantly memorable and has some of the energetic charge of Sondheim's Pacific Overtures mixed with a hint of Bantock. The sing-song refrain Not that that would very much please me is catchy. The song and the cycle end with a clever half-squeak half-yawn.

Then comes a complete gear-change from the much more knowing Roy Harris. The 19th century is left behind and Harris instead calls up a symphonic power even if the Whitman words set are from the late 19th century. It has that frontiersman defiance. Harris was a remarkably original composer and his setting of Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun is typical and full of enthralling writing ranging from licking woodwind and string tendrils and an angular oratorical style. The vocal line is heavy with both nobility and ecstasy. Griffes five short oriental poems take us back to the world of Carpenter, Bantock and Mahler and of the writings of Lafcadio Hearn. These songs are perfect little aquatints written in a softly lyrical style with an oriental swerve to the line. As if to confirm the Bantock connection the last song is A Feast of Lanterns which was also set by Bantock. The name of Horatio Parker may well be known to you for his organ work, his oratorio Hora Novissima and possibly for his powerful Northern Ballad for orchestra (see review). The Rhapsody for baritone and orchestra, Cahal Mor of the Wine Red Hand is in late-romantic style using an orchestral apparatus that is heavier than that of Griffes or Carpenter - more Wagnerian-Tchaikovskian. It has just a dash of sentimentality with reminders of Bantock and Hiawatha’s Onaway Awake Beloved. Bantock’s Five Ghazals of Hafiz would in fact have fitted well amid these cycles – if only in stylistic terms. A lightness of spirit enters in the second song and there is melodrama the visionary dream of A Skeleton in the manner of Longfellow. The refrain binds the cycle together and the harpist’s delicacy brings it to an end.

The words are printed in full in the booklet and the font size makes reading the notes and poems no challenge at all.

All that remains is to ask Mason, Mann, the Odense players and Bridge for a sequel or better yet several. I know there are more Carpenter song cycles with orchestra and surely Farwell, Loeffler and others could fill out the picture. Certainly there are other Roy Harris works with voice and orchestra: Canticle to the Sun and Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight.

Rob Barnett

Reviews of Carpenter on MusicWeb International:
Piano music on New World
Symphonies 1 and 2 on Naxos


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