America lost two great singers far too early – Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Jan DeGaetani. I’ve seldom heard anything as moving as Hunt Lieberson’s recording of As Rosy Steps the Morn
from Handel’s Theodora
, a sublime example of her art at its most simple, communicative and heart-wrenching. But Jan DeGaetani was no less an artist, no less important in the pantheon of song on disc. Indeed her contribution to the work of contemporary music was significant and the partnerships she forged with Copland, Maxwell Davies, Birtwistle, Carter, Jacob Druckman, George Crumb, and many others shows her questing musicianship at something like its most acute. Not that she ignored the rest of the repertory or that she was – dread phrase – ‘a specialist’. In this two disc set from Bridge, a company that has done so much to further her art on disc – we have Strauss, Beethoven, and Haydn amongst others in a well balanced examination of her distinctive gifts throughout the repertory.
The recordings are not studio-made; they were made during recitals and no little restoration works seems to have been undertaken to make them acceptable for commercial release. Some problems remain, notably a certain lack of immediacy and balancing issues, but I wouldn’t stress these too much, and the sound generally speaking remains perfectly acceptable, unless you’re expecting pristine studio conditions.
DeGaetani died of leukaemia at the age of 56 in 1989. The concert took place in 1987, though there’s no audible sign of any vocal impediment. It takes in an excellent Haydn Arianna a Naxos
and some fine examples of her Beethoven – the three Goethe settings Op.83 which are sung with artistry, tonal allure, and without mannerism of any kind. Though she wasn’t an especially explosive or expansive singer she summons up requisite ardour for Abendlied unterm gestirnten Himmel.
She sings five Poulenc songs, bringing out the cabaret wit of Les gars qui vont à la Fête
and singing one of his most beautiful creations, A sa Guitarre
with the right kind of antique longing, Debussy’s Fêtes galantes
(series II) completes the French focus. Her Strauss selection may not be the most striking or effulgently sung – indeed she can be quite reserved in this repertoire – but it is precisely calibrated and effective.
There’s a single, excellent Gershwin song, Our Love is here to Stay
. And then there are songs by three other Americans she did so much to bring to the attention of the public. Kenneth Frazelle’s 1985 Wordly Hopes
– settings of poems by A.R. Ammons – is a sensitive and successful set of five songs, robust and notably expansive in the last, long setting of Rainy Morning.
George Crumb’s early songs are distinctive and excellent, notably the wind painting of the stormy third song with its treble flurries and sense of onrush. Stanley Walden’s Three Ladies
(1983) to Jacques Levy’s texts, is powerful, sometimes terse and conversational, and a highly accomplished example of his word setting. It was written for DeGaetani and her long-term colleague, and pianist, Gilbert Kalish.
Kalish contributes a warm and personal note in the booklet, and there are other personal recollections too that build up a portrait of DeGaetani and her many accomplishments, which this latest release does so well to illustrate.