Steve HEITZIG (b.1959)
The Last Roundup [3:27]*
Rattle the Cage/Bend the Bars [7:50]*
Wild Mercy [3:24]*
Lori LAITMAN ( b.1955)
Four Emily Dickinson Songs
Will There Really Be a Morning? [1:45]
I’m Nobody [2:08]
She Died [2:09]
Fit I… [2:29]
Three Graces for Hildur
It’s all I have to bring today [1:58]
Ample make this Bed [2:04]
The earth has many keys [2:15]
Is Everyone Else Alright? [2:01]
Polly Butler Cornelius (soprano)
Heather Barringer, Patti Cudd (percussion)*
Victoria Fischer Faw (piano)
rec. 6-8 July 2011, Maud Moon Weyerhauser Recording Studio, Minnesota Public Radio, St. Paul
INNOVA 825 [35:02]
While the work on this recording is highly approachable, this is by no means a typical song recital. Seeking beyond the more conventional voice/piano combination, Steve Heitzig’s Wild Songs uses a colourful array of percussion, from the crisp rattle of organic seed packs and mellow marimba of The Last Roundup, a haunting harmonic whirly drone and marimba combination in Rattle the Cage/Bend the Bars, to wood blocks and dramatic drums in Wild Mercy. Other means of producing sound come from sustainably procured whale bones, Korean gongs and recorded Bonobos or ape vocalisations. These are songs with a message, protesting “No GMOs!” against the dangers of the proliferation of genetically modified organisms, against the destruction of the Great Apes by man, and a final plea for acts of restraint in fields such as the Arctic National Wildlife refuge. The music is full of fascination and variety, and is by no means comparable to your typical rabble-rousing protest songs for the millions. With honest feelings and powerful sentiments expressed in sometimes forceful but more often poetic and restrained fashion, these are works which lead their own environmental consciousness-raising life with considerable communicative depth.
Lori Laitman’s Four Emily Dickinson Songs are with piano, and written in a romantic idiom which suits Dickinson’s directness of language well. Will There Really be a Morning has an early Erik Satie Gymnopédie feel. I’m Nobody has a more dancing nature and a country openness which develops into more sophisticated areas as the text progresses. She Died is a compact drama, the high pitch of the vocal writing working a little against some of the more tender phrases. If I… is the most sentimental of the set, with arching lyrical lines over warm harmonies from the piano.
Steve Heitzig’s Three Graces for Hildur also uses Emily Dickinson as a source for texts, and these also brings out the romantic in the composer. These are all unmistakably American pieces, and none the worse for that, but if you have done your apprenticeship in the rich art song tradition you will already know more or less what to expect from these works.
It’s all I have to bring today begins with austere chimes from the piano, but the poignant vocal line brings us swiftly into tonal reality. Ample make this Bed is one of those songs which lingers longer in the memory than one might expect, the gentle piano cadences drawing you in and creating an atmosphere of hush. The Earth has many keys is more urgent in feel, the composer working Dickinson’s consonant stresses in part against expectation to create emphatic syncopations.
Steve Heitzeg’s Loveblessing takes a text from Corinthians I 13: 4-7, “Love is patient and kind”, and gives it an elegant and warmly expressive setting. Is Everybody Else Alright? were the last words spoken by Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy, and these are preceded by a text from Aeschylus, “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget/Falls drop by drop upon the heart, Until in our own despair, against our will/Comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” This is a moving statement, but also an apparently non sequitur juxtaposition which has unavoidable ironic resonance for the more cynical amongst us. It’s a bit like setting “To be or not to be…” and closing with “I’ve never felt better.” The message is one which defines “the selflessness and compassion at the center of this glowing program”, but the linguistic leap is just a little too wide. Never mind, this is another elegant and elegiac song, and a quietly restful moment with which to close the programme.
Superbly recorded and with all texts included in the booklet, this is a release with Innova’s usual high production values. Polly Butler Cornelius sings all of these songs with excellent expression and a depth of sincerity which comes from her extensive preparation and personal attachment to what she describes as “these beautiful and intellectual songs.” Her voice is not a particularly light soprano, so that some of the more guileless moments lack perhaps a little of the simplicity of tone which might have benefited them more. This is a minor and subjective point however, and there is nothing here which jars with the intentions of the composers. The notably short playing time might put people off and it’s a bit naughty of Innova not to print it on the back cover, but this is a programme of considerable substance and I didn’t feel left too short, though I’m sure those talented instrumentalists would have had a couple of neat solos ready to roll out, and this would have beefed things up a little.
A recital with real substance and depth.