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Pocahontas, at the Court of King James I (2006/2007) [part 1: 13:34; part 2: 15:30]

Choctaw Diaries [21:48]

Roberta Gumble (a Lady at Court and Matoaka, Pocahontas, Lady Rebecca Rolfe (by all these names the young, cart-wheeling Native American girl was called)), Marshall Cod (King James I), The Queen’s Chamber Band (Pocahontas) Timothy Archambault (native flute), The Bronx Chamber Ensemble (Choctaw Diaries) 

rec. live, Merkin Hall, NYC, NY (Pocahontas) and Holy Trinity Church NYC, NY and the Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site, Yonkers, NY (Diaries) (dates not given). DDD
LYRICHORD LYRCD6009 [51:03] 

Experience Classicsonline

George Quincy is from Oklahoma and is of Choctaw heritage. He studied at the Juilliard School, and subsequently taught there. He was Musical Advisor to Martha Graham and has composed, orchestrated and conducted music for theatre, dance, film, opera, television and concert.

Choctaw Diaries is a pleasant, if overlong, suite for native flute and small ensemble. According to the notes it “evokes a Native American landscape of spirit, the dawn of a day from another time, meshing with my own Oklahoma childhood recollections. It recalls the prairie, the canyon, the expanse of sky. The voice of the native flute calls for these experiences to be eternal.” It is attractive in its sound-world, the native flute, with its own tuning, standing in relief against the western tuning of the ensemble. The first movement, Awakening to Spirit opens with the most gorgeous, and delicate, string writing, over which the flute sings a long song. It’s a lovely achievement. The second movement - That We May Touch the Earth – is a scherzo–like movement, but in a medium tempo, and because of this the music never takes fire. The third movement – Beauty Comes to the Eye – is another slow movement starting with a trumpet solo, then the flute joins in, over a string accompaniment. The quick finale – Journey to My Truth – returns to the kind of music heard in the second movement.


This music is very Coplandesque - if you ignore the flute - easy on the ear, nicely orchestrated and very pleasant. But it’s all the same. The music never varies and it doesn’t seem to have a specific musical, as opposed to philosophical, purpose.


In the two parts (one each side of the Diaries) of Quincy’s Pocahontas, at the Court of King James I, written to a libretto by the composer’s wife, Thayer Burch, we see the eponymous heroine at Court. The work begins with a very beautiful prelude, much of which could have come out of almost any of Gustav Holst’s earlier works - such as Savitri. There’s Poulenc and Falla in the harpsichord writing, string glissandi, then the singing begins. Roberta Gumble (singing a Lady at Court in part 1) has a voice which isn’t under control. Her wobble is too much, for it clouds the vocal line and the ear tires of such sound quite quickly. Marshall Cod’s counter-tenor - I assume he’s a counter-tenor, and there’s nothing in the notes to tell me otherwise - is fine but it’s hard to discern which singer is singing unless you follow the libretto. As they wait for the entrance of Pocahontas the King and the Lady speculate on “That putrid tobacco, that dreaded devil’s plant…” I lit another cigarette at this point. Then there’s speculation on Pocahontas’s husband, followed by discussion about “…her entourage. Heathens all, Quite glorious in their savagery.”


The second part has our heroine in duet with the King.


One of the things which makes opera, or whatever this work is, work is that it has to have clearly drawn characters – think of Tosca, Peter Grimes, Figaro – and good tunes – almost any stage-work by Haydn and Mozart, most of Britten and Tippett, Ned Rorem – which are developed and carry the argument forwards. Arioso as well as recitative. What I feel we have here is a piece which doesn’t really work. It’s not dramatic, it contains too much that is irrelevant – the tobacco chat in the first part – and the small ensemble of string quartet, bass, flute, oboe, rain stick (over-used) and harpsichord simply doesn’t have sufficient colour to make the music interesting.


Certainly, Choctaw Diaries makes me want to hear more of Quincy’s work but Pocahontas leaves me cold, not least for the singing of Roberta Gumble, and the fact that the two voices used are so similar in timbre that you’ve no idea who is singing what. Why didn’t Quincy use a tenor instead of a counter-tenor? The instrumentalists are excellent, the small band in the opera (for want of a better word) sounds to be having a good time with the limited material given to it, and the Bronx Ensemble accompany the native flute well.


The recording is excellent and the full libretto is printed in the booklet but there’s only notes about the composer and the pieces, nothing about the soloists. I’m sorry to have to say that I shan’t be reaching for this CD again, in an hurry.


Bob Briggs




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