Words that Sing in the Night: settings of WB Yeats
Arrangements: Max Maples
Laura Whittenberger (soprano)
Peyson Moss and Alan Naylor (piano)
Kah Yun Song and Sarah Casey (flute)
Jessica Albrecht (cello)
Joshua Hong (violin)
Maximiliano Marques (guitar)
Laura Stokes (harp)
rec. Peabody Conservatory, Baltimore and recordings and mixing at Red Bridge Studios, Savage, MD, undated
MERROW RECORDS MR002 [47:38]
I haven’t been able to find out much about American composer Raymond Driver, but he lives in Maryland and most of the musicians on this disc, including vocalist Laura Whittenberger, are graduates of the Peabody Conservatory. In the recording there are settings of 25 Yeats poems, and back in 2016 a recital at The American Irish Historical Society was sponsored by the W.B Yeats Society of New York.
His compact settings are charming, folkloric inventions. Compact - never exceeding three minutes in length - most are piano-accompanied, but some are sung solo, whilst others have a variety of accompaniments from flute, cello, violin, guitar and harp. As a result, sufficient variety of texture and colour ensures that the settings retain an individual stamp.
Once in a while Driver has the knack of setting a poem in such a way that you feel you’ve always known it; that applies to He Tells of the Valley Full of Lovers where the piano and cello accompaniments are thoughtfully conceived and the vocal line highly effective and appealing. His harmonies are attractive, and he never mulls over a line, or repeats a phrase, preferring instead directness, though not brusqueness. Sometimes key changes sound effortful in the context of the settings but not often. The ethos, I should stress again, is not that of ‘art song’ (whatever that is or isn’t) but rather a coltish folk balladry.
If he hadn’t effective interpreters this wouldn’t work as well as it does but in Whittenberger he has a very real asset, a singer at one with the texts and the milieu. Though she is American-born (in Baltimore), her Irish accent is most pronounced in An Irish Airman Foresees His Death perhaps because of the explicit title. September 1913 is sung in a kind of parlando, without accompaniment, and there is a quiet melancholy to The Falling of the Leaves though by contrast The Fiddler of Dooney evokes the violinist of the title with jolly fiddling courtesy of Joshua Hong. Bardic elements are at their most pronounced in the harp-accompanied He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven and the flute infuses freshness to To an Isle in the Water. Driver saves some of his best ideas for the last piece, The Wild Swans at Coole, its undulating, quietly rapt expression ending in overdubbed birds in flight - something of a Rautavaara Cantus Arcticus effect in miniature.
Heard in the right context - which is folk settings - and not, say, Gurney or Ireland or Britten, these settings will give pleasure, not least when played and sung as attractively as they are here.
He Tells of the Valley Full of Lovers [2:26]
When You Are Old [2:33]
Never Give All the Heart [1:42]
The White Birds [2:41]
Brown Penny [1:25]
The Pity of Love [1:34]
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death [1:44]
He Tells of the Perfect Beauty [2:46]
The Lover Pleads with His Friend for Old Friends [0:49]
The Poet Pleads with the Elemental Powers [2:12]
September 1913 [1:46]
The Lake Isle of Innisfree [1:39]
The Cold Heaven [1:44]
The Falling of the Leaves [1:25]
The Song of Wandering Aengus [2:12]
The Fiddler of Dooney [1:05]
The Rose of the World [1:23]
He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven [2:02]
To an Isle in the Water [1:44]
The Mask [2:38]
The Folly of Being Comforted [2:28]
The Mermaid [0:25]
The Wild Swans at Coole [2:50]