Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Despite and still - songs
Nuvoletta op. 25 (1947) [5:21]
Hermit Songs op. 29 (1952-53) [17:17]
The secrets of the old op. 13 no. 2 (1938) [1:26]
Sure on this shining night op. 13 no. 3 (1938) [2:32]
Despite and Still op. 41 (1968-69) [10:53]
Monks and Raisins op. 18 no. 2 (1943) [1:24]
Rain has fallen op. 10 no. 1 (1935) [2:36]
Three songs op. 45 (1972) [7:16]
Melissa Fogarty (soprano); Marc Peloquin (piano)
rec. Concert Hall, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, 10, 12, 14 January 2011. DDD
I was pleased to make the acquaintance of soprano Melissa Fogarty and especially in this Barber song recital. How easy it would have been for Fogarty and Peloquin - who also share an interest in Del Tredici - to have opted for one of those standard diffuse anthologies. Instead we get a well-targeted and aptly sung survey of the soprano songs of one composer, the glorious Samuel Barber. This is her second album after the “Handel: Scorned and Betrayed”.
Words are clearly important to her as is clear from her attention to sung clarity. My only criticism is that I wondered about her range of dynamics and the extent to which she truly achieves quiet singing. These doubts might be down to the vividly confronting recording which wonderfully engages with the theatrical drama of many of these songs. After all Barber’s operatic lineage came to him via his aunt the contralto Louise Homer.
Fogarty is a many talented, hard-working and attractive singer who has all the marks of a star in waiting. I shall not be surprised to hear that she has figured on one of the major US talk shows: Letterman or Leno. Their researchers should be scheduling an appearance soon. Her lineage runs back to such towering Barber figures as Horne, Price and Steber. One wonders why no-one has yet offered her the opportunity to tackle Barber’s Knoxville for which her intelligence, operatic chops and poignant sensitivity make a perfect fit. Even so she is not so grand that she turns down weddings and funerals. As she explains in her website she has “experience in just about every religion and denomination. Parties too! … Not just classical. American Song Book Standards and 1960s and 1970s rock are also a specialty.”
Fogarty’s Barber song nexus was forged back in her days as a student at the Eastman School of Music and was further expressed during last year’s Barber centennial where her New York Bargemusic concert with Peloquin attracted much critical praise.
The tricky Nuvoletta is a piece of operetta bravura. Written with grant aid from the Coolidge Foundation, Hermit Songs sets anonymous poems by Irish monks and scholars from the 8th to the 13th centuries. The translations are by W.H. Auden, Chester Kallman and Sean O’Faolain. It was premiered by Leontyne Price in 1953 at the Library of Congress, with Barber as the pianist. Fogarty handles their often brief sour and sweet subtleties, frilly abandon, stony chiming and operatic dignity with all the practised acumen of someone who has performed these songs for quite some time. The reflective experience brought to the playing and singing is patent. The Monk and His Cat (tr. 9) brings off the resolution of delightful lyrical line and gawky-sweet piano. The final song (Desire for the Hermitage) finds Barber marrying lyrical sweetness and direct pianistic eloquence.
The five songs setting poems by Robert Graves, Theodore Roethke and James Joyce, of Despite and Still were composed in the wake of the ‘failure’ of Antony and Cleopatra at the Met. Fogarty here picks up on the blend of stand and deliver declamation and musing introspection. Despite and Still with its swirling and trilling dark waters from the piano is deeply and operatically impressive. Have these songs been orchestrated they would be apt to the treatment. The cycle is again dedicated to Leontyne Price who premiered it in New York in 1969.
Three Songs, Op. 45 was written during the same period. The stellar chill of Now Have I fed contrasts with the pirouetting carefree delight of A Green Lowland of Pianos also clearly the inspiration of one of the packages internal paintings. Sure on this Shining Night sets words by James Agee who also wrote the poem later set by Barber for Knoxville.
The design of the CD package and especially the smile-inducing drawings (Good News Bible meets surrealism) by Bryce Edwards are as much part of the success of this disc as Marc Peloquin’s always thoughtful and adept playing of the Baldwin SD-10 piano. No texts provided, though given Fogarty’s attention to enunciation this only intermittently presents a challenge.
Intelligence, operatic chops and sensitivity make Fogarty and Peloquin a perfect fit for this serious sequence of Barber songs.
Rob Barnett 

Intelligence, operatic chops and sensitivity make Fogarty a perfect fit for this serious sequence of Barber songs.