George WALKER (b. 1922)
Chamber Music and Songs
String Quartet No. 2 (1968) [22:01]
Poem (for soprano and chamber ensemble) (1987) [15:36]
Lyric for Strings (string quartet version) (1946) [6:25]
Five Fancies (1974) [9:30]
Modus (for chamber ensemble) (2001) [9:12]
I Never Saw a Moor (1986) [2:01]
Response (1940) [2:26]
Mother Goose (Circa 2054) (1992) [1:21]
Take, O Take Those Lips Away (2004) [2:39]
And Wilt Thou Leave Me Thus (2002) [3:10]
Janet Stasio (soprano) (Poem); Patricia Green (mezzo) (last 5 titles); James Martin (baritone); Sona Sonora String Quartet; Capitol Chamber Artists (Poem); Videmus Ensemble (Fancies); Cygnus Ensemble (Modus); George Walker (piano) (last five tracks)
rec. First Methodist Church, Jersey City, USA, June 2008 (track 1) and August 2008 (track 3); Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, USA, August 1988 (track 2); WGBH Boston, USA, 1994 (track 4); Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, USA, August 2005 (tracks 5-8); George Walker’s home, Montclair, USA, August 2008 (tracks 9-10). DDD
Text notes by George Walker
NAXOS 8.559659 [74:23]

George Walker is one the most senior living American composers, having been on the musical scene since the 1940s. He writes in a somewhat dissonant manner, but is not without expressiveness. The recording under consideration here covers several aspects of his output and is especially interesting for containing some of his recent work.

The String Quartet No. 2 starts off plaintively and quickly becomes contrapuntal. The second movement emphasizes plucked strings, but the piece really gets going in the third movement, which is more melodic than the first two and full of pizzicati. The last movement contains an interesting fugue. It should be mentioned that the Lyric for Strings, also on this disc, is a movement from Walker’s earlier Quartet No. 1 and is still his best-known piece. It is serious and quite moving.

The most interesting work here is the Poem for Soprano and Chamber Ensemble, to words by T.S. Eliot. This is very solid, with an advanced, but impressive solo part and a fascinating use of the instruments, especially the piano. The use of Sprechstimme by the main soloist and accompaniment by two other soloists is also well done.

The most recent item on the disc is the Modus for Chamber Ensemble. It is in four sections, with two guitars prominent. They definitely add to the atmosphere. A solo flute is also in evidence. Each movement builds on the previous one so that the last produces a true feeling of culmination. Unfortunately, equal praise cannot be given to the Five Fancies.

Of the five Walker songs recorded here, two definitely stand out. “Never Saw a Moon” uses programmatic elements in the accompaniment to support the vocal part and has an Emily Dickinson feeling. The Wyatt song “And Will Thou Leave Me Thus” uses different intervals to mirror the emotions of the text.

All of the ensembles heard on this recording play very competently and with great dedication to the music. Soprano Janet Stasio is especially notable. One could hardly imagine anyone else with a better understanding of the music. Patricia Green is also fine in her three songs, although James Martin is not nearly so good. As the recordings were made in several different places, recording quality is somewhat variable.

William Kreindler

An interesting variety of works from one of America’s senior composers.