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Jake HEGGIE (b. 1961)
Unexpected Shadows
The Breaking Waves (2011): Music [2:58]
The Work at Hand (2015) [18:39]
If I Were You (2019): “Ice Cube Aria: I don’t have to do a thing” [3:28]
Iconic Legacies: First Ladies at the Smithsonian (2015) [15:32]
Of Gods & Cats (1996) [6:29]
Statuesque (2005) [19:23]
Jamie Barton (mezzo)
Jake Heggie (piano)
Matt Haimovitz (cello)
rec. 2019, Skywalker Sound, Marin County, USA
Notes and text in English
PENTATONE PTC5186836 [66:40]

This is a recital disc of the songs of American Composer Jake Heggie, whose name has been most associated with his opera Dead Man Walking, which was based on the book by the Roman Catholic Sister Helen Prejean; an account of her years working with death row inmates. Heggie has also been a prolific composer of song cycles, so a new CD of his work is always welcome. This one is especially welcome because of the presence of star mezzo Jamie Barton. The collaboration between composer/accompanist and singer has obviously benefitted from a mutually sincere artistic connection. The auditory evidence for this is strewn throughout this recital in each song on the program.

The recital opens with “Music” from the Breaking Waves cycle. This was collaboration with Sister Prejean in which she reminisces about discovering that an inmate she was working with was deprived of listening to music for over a year, and how he came alive again once she arranged for him to have a tape player. Work at Hand is taken from the poetry of writer Laura Morefield, who was diagnosed with cancer in her late 40s. During the cycle we are taken through an artist’s journey that shifts from focusing on how the loved ones in her life will cope in “Individual Origami”. This passes into “Warrior One” which is a personal resistance song against the overwhelming forces of the disease. The final song of the cycle,“The Slow Seconds” reveals a soul beginning to let go by passing into parts of the natural world around her. Here, Barton’s pointed singing is restrained and delicate, especially in a moving rendition of the downward melisma that concludes “Warrior One”.

The Ice Cube aria” from the opera If I Were You has the feel of a two-o’clock in-the-morning torch song, yet is really an almost gleeful account of a Mephistophelian character observing human resolve ever melting like an ice cube. In the cycle Iconic Legacies: First Ladies at the Smithsonian, the songs play with the inner worlds of four Presidential wives via the objects they have left in the Smithsonian Institution. In the song “Abraham Lincoln’s Hat” the repeated refrain of “in a world where this can happen / Only madness rhymes” is a stunningly apt metaphor for the current global crisis. The next cycle, Of Gods and Cats the songs conceive of God as an undisciplined little child creating and destroying his playthings for which he gets scolded by his mother. The true highlight of the disc is the incredibly witty, erudite cycle Statuesque which places the listener inside the minds of five renowned female sculptures that were created by artists such as Picasso and Giacometti. The final song of “Winged Victory (We’re Through!)” concerns the famous statue dating from 190 BC which is prominently displayed in the Louvre Museum. This song is a tour-de-force conclusion to this disc as Heggie and Barton leap into the wonderful irony of the disjointed thoughts running through the mind of a headless statue. Throughout the CD Barton employs her rich and gloriously velvet textured tone with restraint and taste only to switch to delicious abandonment such as the concluding song where she sings with such gleeful relish as to make this one track alone worth the price of the entire CD. Pentatone’s excellent presentation features a gatefold style case coupled with the wonderful sound engineering making this CD one of my choices for Recording of the Year.

Mike Parr

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