Robert NELSON (b. 1941)
Symphonic Scenes from A Room With a View (1893/1998)* [49:38]
Two Spirituals for Soprano and Orchestra (1997)* [5:55]
Christmas Cantata, A Nyw Werke is Come on Honde (1995)+ [14:06]
Debria Brown (soprano); Soloists of the Edythe Bates Old Moores Opera Center;
Chorus and Symphony Orchestra/Charles Hausmann+; Franz Anton Krager*
No date or venue listed
ALBANY TROY381 [73:09]
Robert Nelson is an American composer based at the Moores School of Music at
the University of Houston. He is known for writing in almost every musical style
imaginable, from hard rock to Neo-Romantic. The works on this disc covers the
somewhat narrower range from commercial to operatic.
Nelson sees his two African-American spirituals as belonging to a long tradition
of setting such music for the concert hall. The disadvantage of this treatment
is that the music is frequently over-elaborated and the performance over-dramatized.
The first of these two pieces, “City Called Heaven“ suffers from
both these problems while “My Soul Has Been Anchored” retains its
original simplicity and is performed in an equally simple manner.
Charles Hausmann, choral director at the Moores School, commissioned Nelson
to write an Advent cantata for the three choruses at the University of Houston.
It is entitled A Nyw Werke is Come on Honde. The work alternates settings
of seasonal texts with recitatives on texts from the Bible. The choral sections
are too reminiscent of the commercial arrangements of Christmas carols all too
prevalent in Advent, but the recitatives are genuinely moving and technically
imaginative. They rescue the work from disappearing in the great ocean of seasonal
Nelson’s “Romantic Comic Opera” A Room with a View,
based on Forster’s novel, premiered in 1993 and was well received. Five
years later the composer arranged a shortened version for concert performance
with a full orchestra. This version retains the heart of Buck Jones' skilfully
written libretto and the alternating humour and dramatic sweep of Nelson’s
music. However, the lack of scenic representation emphasizes the weakness of
the original score, especially Nelson’s reliance on musical theatre formulae
when an episode in the libretto fails to interest him. The strongest section
of the score must be considered the Act 2 duet between Mr. Emerson (father of
work’s here, George Emerson) and the heroine Lucy Honeychurch. This is
music of great sincerity and deserves to be better known. Attention should also
be called to the final scene of the opera - and concert version - in which Nelson
dramatically and musically brings the work to a successful close.
In the role of Lucy, Elizabeth Wiles is extremely persuasive vocally, although
it takes her a little while to inhabit her role dramatically. Justin White is
a competent George but makes the character less forceful than he should be,
while Debria Brown (very effective in the Two Spirituals) seems not to be in
control of her characterization at all. Pride of place goes to bass-baritone
Richard Paul Fink as Mr. Emerson. He invests this role with both simplicity
and nobility. The Moores School Orchestra performs at a high level and both
conductors keep them in good form. This disc was released in the year 2000 and
serves as a good introduction to a composer of undoubted sincerity and ability,
if sometimes too much facility.
Vocal and operatic music from Houston by a composer who should be better known.