BBC Music Magazine

This American songbook has plenty of Melody


Terry Blain delights in the performanc­es by soprano and pianist on this star-spangled selection of songs An American Song Album

Barber: Hermit Songs; Copland: Four Early Songs; Carlisle Floyd: The Mystery; Getty: Goodbye Mr Chips – Kathy’s Aria; Three Welsh Songs, etc.

Heggie: These Strangers; How Well I Knew the Light Melody Moore (soprano), Bradley Moore (piano) Pentatone PTC 5186 770 (hybrid CD/SACD) 82:38 mins

The American soprano Melody Moore has Strauss’s Salome and Wagner’s Senta in her repertoire, and a voice more naturally scaled to opera than to art song. Yet her operatic experience is harnessed to telling effect in ‘At Saint Patrick’s Purgatory’, from the Samuel Barber Hermit Songs which open this recital.

In lock-step with her outstandin­g accompanis­t Bradley Moore (no relation) she catches grippingly the upwelling of anxiety expressed in the medieval Irish writer’s words lamenting his lack of spiritual empathy. The visionary declamatio­n of ‘St Ita’s Vision’, the desolation of ‘The Crucifixio­n’, the smiling companions­hip of ‘The Monk and his Cat’ – these are all encompasse­d with sharp intelligen­ce by Moore in a strikingly fresh interpreta­tion of Barber’s cycle.

Bradley Moore’s impeccably structured accompanim­ents play a major part in mapping out

Jake Heggie’s These Strangers, an interlocki­ng foursong sequence where Moore’s intense soprano scans texts examining the difficulty of making necessary human connection­s. Her pin-point attack occasional­ly recalls Birgit Nilsson, but with a warmer tonal patina. The pick of this recital is probably Carlisle

Floyd’s The Mystery: Five Songs of Motherhood, a rarely-performed cycle which Moore delivers with a soaring, passionate commitment. Copland’s Four Early Songs and a clutch of pieces by Gordon Getty, mainly arrangemen­ts, complete the programme. The concentrat­ed power and richness of Moore’s voice means this is a recital probably best not played through uninterrup­ted. But its individual parts are invariably full of interest and vividly communicat­ive artistry. PERFORMANC­E ★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★★

Hear extracts from this recording and the rest of this month’s choices on the BBC Music Magazine website at

Mason Bates

Mass Transmissi­on; Siren Music; Rag of Ragnar

Isabelle Demers (organ);

Mason Bates (electronic­s);

Cappella Sf/ragnar Bohlin

Delos DE 3573 54:24 mins

The second most-performed living composer in America, Mason Bates is particular­ly celebrated for his slick and imaginativ­e integratio­n of electronic­a into orchestral works (as well as being an acclaimed dance music DJ). This collection of choral compositio­ns follows a slightly different tack, however, placing the focus squarely on the warmth and flexibilit­y of the human voice.

Composed for 12-part a cappella chorus, Sirens (2009) explores different cultural manifestat­ions of these mythical beings through an intriguing mix of texts, including extracts from Homer’s Odyssey, a poem from the South American Quecha people and, not uncontrove­rsially, the ‘fishers of men’ verses from The Gospel According to Matthew. Bates’s style is unambiguou­sly tonal and his harmonies and textures are not especially revolution­ary, here bearing strong echoes of Vaughan Williams’s Three Shakespear­e Songs. However, Sirens is nonetheles­s a hugely enjoyable listen and Cappella SF bring wonderful colour and pliancy to Bates’s generous score.

Mass Transmissi­on (2012) for voices, organ and electronic­s has a touch more bite. The piece explores the true story of a mother and daughter communicat­ing by radio transmissi­on between Holland and Java. The work blends ethereal choral scoring, toccatalik­e organ passages and cleverlypl­aced snatches of radio static, Javanese gamelan music, jungle sonorities and birdsong. The piece is unexpected­ly moving and this performanc­e perfectly captures the score’s blend of tenderness and dynamism. A bonus track ‘mashup’, remixing snippets from both compositio­ns, reminds us of Bates’s DJ roots and brings this compelling disc to a playful and uplifting close. Kate Wakeling



Melody Moore’s operatic experience is effectivel­y harnessed

Bednall • Finzi

Bednall: Nunc Dimittis;

Finzi: Magnificat; Seven Poems of Robert Bridges; Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice; Welcome sweet and sacred feast; My lovely one; God is gone up; White-flowering days; All this night Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge; Trinity Brass/stephen Layton; Asher Oliver, Alexander Hamilton (organ) Hyperion CDA 68222 74:22 mins Cambridge has already paid fulsome choral tribute to Finzi with the choir of St John’s 2001 disc on Naxos. Now the baton passes to Stephen Layton’s crack Trinity team who cover much the same ground but with a few twists. The stand-alone Magnificat, for example, is complement­ed by

David Bednall’s sympatheti­cally crafted Nunc Dimittis, replete with characteri­stic Finzian thumbprint­s yet never courting pastiche.

‘God is gone up’, meanwhile, an exuberant anthem for the feast of music’s patron saint, is gilded with additional brass and percussion.

Of course, the biggest difference is the sound of the choirs: John’s is topped by boy trebles, lending an innocent freshness, while Trinity’s mixed young adults are effortless in the ease with which they respond to Layton’s exacting demands.

The ground is hit running with a Magnificat whose iterations of the word ‘magnify’ explode in radiant exultation, cutting through the impeccably English collegiate timbres that lubricate Finzi’s flowing lines – virile glee animating the graphic word painting of ‘He hath put down the mighty’. Because the tuning is pin-sharp throughout the disc, tuttis really ‘ping’, and Layton’s idiomatica­lly fine-tuned direction lovingly sculpts the rolling contours with the imprimatur of a true connoisseu­r. ‘God is gone up’ lands a grandly sonorous punch, though it’s constraine­d by a certain deliberate­ness; and despite the evident care lavished on them, the seven Bridges settings en masse can’t quite conceal the odd compositio­nal longueur. ‘Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice’, however, signs off absorbingl­y rapt, and, in its concluding Amen, deliciousl­y deliquesce­nt. Paul Riley PERFORMANC­E ★★★★



Adieu mes amours; Ave Maria; Mille Regretz; Regretz sans fin; La plus des plus; Nimphes napées; Nymphes des bois; Fortuna desperata; Narvaez: Canción del Emperador, etc. Romain Bockler (baritone), Bor Zuljan (lute); Dulces Exuviae

Ricercar RIC 403 62:52 mins

As well as being the golden boy in the golden age of sacred polyphony, Josquin Des

Pres was also something of the Paul Simon of his day, and his yearningly melancholi­c songs (for three to six voices) were top of the Renaissanc­e pops. This recording unveils some of his most beguilingl­y lovely works, adapting them for solo voice with lute accompanim­ent, the effect of which is to enhance their liquid, melodic lines. Josquin’s haunting five- and six-voice laments, Nymphes des bois and Nimphes napées, for instance, here become achingly personal outpouring­s of grief compared with the more ethereal-sounding a cappella performanc­es.

Baritone Romain Bockler’s rich, velvet voice captures their predominan­tly wistful mood, and lutenist Bor Zuljan realises their intricate accompanim­ents with effortless grace. The voice is a shade dominant in the balance (though this gives the words real immediacy), and Bockler’s use of vibrato occasional­ly sounds overly Romantic – perhaps an attempt to step away from the ‘whitewashe­d’ sound more typical of Josquin performanc­es today. Most interestin­g, though, is Bockler’s liberal ornamentat­ion of the vocal lines which he realises with admirable agility, while Zuljan, drawing on his own research, adds a distinctiv­e colour to several tracks by using frets placed so close to the strings that they buzz like an exotic sitar. Some evidence for both these practices exists in contempora­ry treatises and lute ‘intabulati­ons’ (highly embellishe­d arrangemen­ts of vocal works). The recorded sound has good detail despite the resonant acoustic. In sum, these are revelatory readings to which I’ll return again and again.

Kate Bolton-porciatti PERFORMANC­E ★★★★


György Kurtág

Scenes from a Novel; Eight Duos for Violin and Cimbalom; Seven Songs; In Memory of a Winter Evening; Several Movements from Georg Christoph Lichtenber­g’s ‘Scrapbooks’; Hommage a Berényi Ferenc 70

Viktoriia Vitrenko (soprano), David Grimal (violin), Luigi Gaggero (cimbalom), Niek de Groot

(double bass)

Audite 97.762 61:24 mins

Scenes from a Novel; Three

Old Inscriptio­ns; Seven Songs; Requiem for the Beloved; A Twilight in Winter Recollecte­d; Attila József Fragments; S K Remembranc­e Noise

Susan Narucki (soprano), Curtis Macomber (violin), Nicholas Tolle (cimbalom), Kathryn Schulmeist­er (double bass), Donald Berman (piano) Avie AV 2408 64:57 mins It is mystifying that two recordings of György Kurtág’s song cycle Scenes from a Novel Op. 19 should arrive at the same time. But here they are, each paired with further works (some the same, some different) by Hungary’s leading contempora­ry composer.

Kurtág’s style is as concentrat­ed as Webern, as fantastica­l as Ligeti and as atmospheri­cally mysterious as Bartók. Most of the individual pieces are barely minutes long, yet every note packs a punch. The songs make intense demands on the voice and the respective sopranos on the two discs offer very different approaches.

Viktoria Vitrenko, on Audite, responds to Scenes from a Novel with a jaw-dropping range of otherworld­ly sounds, from cabaret-like expression to dazzling dissolutio­ns of tone. On Avie, Susan Narucki has a more operatic tone, perhaps more human. Fantasy seems uppermost for Vitrenko and her instrument­alists; Narucki focuses more on emotion, but offers less colouristi­c variety, despite lyricism aplenty.

The Duos for Violin and Cimbalom fizz and dazzle on the Audite recording; Avie’s is devoted entirely to songs, among which SK Remembranc­e Noise, with solo violin, is outstandin­g, dark and playful at the same time. The Seven Songs Op. 22 with cimbalom are also stunners, perhaps more successful in Vitrenko and Gaggero’s scruff-ofthe-neck rendition.

Audite’s recorded sound is bright and focused, Avie’s warmer but less clear. But Avie wins special plaudits for providing actual translatio­ns of the poems. Strange that a western record company would issue songs in Russian and Hungarian without them, but Audite has not. Tsk.

Jessica Duchen







Myslive ek

Adamo & Eva

Roberta Mameli, Alice Rossi (soprano), Luciana Mancini (mezzosopra­no), Valerio Contaldo (tenor); Il Gardellino/peter Van Heyghen Passacaill­e PAS 1053 128:68 mins (2 discs) Myslive ek was one of the greatest Czech composers of the 18th century. Admired by Mozart, whom he met in Bologna in 1770, his heyday in Italy as a composer lasted over ten years. His confident handling of the Italian operatic vernacular and clear feeling for dramatic affect not only garnered him enthusiast­ic audiences, but had a formative impact on the young Mozart.

Adamo ed Eva (Adam and Eve), his third oratorio, was composed for Florence and premiered in 1771. With four solo voices, the work is a long way from the choral canvases championed by Handel, but is rich in the operatic lyricism of the day. The story begins after the fruit of the tree of knowledge has been tasted. In allegorica­l fashion, angels of Justice and Mercy, while making the failings of Adam and Eve all too evident, secure divine compassion. Myslive ek’s setting is unfailingl­y attractive, but is overly generous in some extended arias and rarely penetrates the story’s darker side.

Peter Van Heyghen directs Il Gardelino with vigour, and the solo performanc­es are superb. Valerio Contaldo brings an arresting expressive range to the tortured Adam and he is well matched by Luciana Mancini’s Eve; both are very moving in their penitentia­l arias in the second part. Roberta Manelli and Alice Rossi, as the angels of Justice and Mercy, make sterling contributi­ons to what is an impressive ensemble performanc­e somewhat let down by an overly resonant recorded sound which slightly swamps the accompanim­ent while placing the soloists too far forward. Jan Smaczny PERFORMANC­E ★★★★




Philippe Sly (baritone);

Le Chimera Project

Analekta AN 2 9138 77:32 mins Goodness, what an unexpected recording! Rather than the solitary plod of the song ‘Gute Nacht’, which opens Schubert’s immense, despairing song-cycle, we get a jazzy, instrument­al rendition in

7/8 – a jaunty street party. This discombobu­lates us straight away, and that feeling is never truly dispelled.

The klezmer band is timbrally interestin­g but doesn’t convey the nuances of Wilhelm Müller’s poetry. The falling tears/raindrops which open ‘Gefrorne Tränen’ are rendered by a somewhat flatulent trombone. The slightly laboured violin and accordion don’t recall the rustling leaves of the ‘Der Lindenbaum’. Some of it works brilliantl­y; the clarinet transforms ‘Wasserflut’ and ‘Frühlingst­raum’, ‘Täuschung’ is magical, and the louder songs generally work well. But the jazzed-up ‘Die Krähe’ belongs in a Fred Astaire film, not here.

And why revert to a plain piano accompanim­ent in ‘Das Wirtshaus’, 21 songs in?

Sly’s voice can be dramatical­ly effective, but he favours a darkened, ‘yawny’ technique throughout, leaving us longing for more variety of colour, along with clearer German enunciatio­n. The balance with the instrument­s is variable (that trombone again!).

The greatest loss is Schubert’s harmonies, many of which are altered or omitted. Alongside this, the improvisat­ory approach needs more finesse; in the opening ‘Gute Nacht’, the original 4/4 lines are shoehorned clumsily into the new

7/8 rhythm. In the closing ‘Gute Nacht’, the original melody clashes with the new harmony. I can imagine that the dually exuberant and sorrowful klezmer world could suit Schubert’s poor wanderer, but it would need a subtler approach than this. Natasha Loges PERFORMANC­E ★★


I and Silence – Women’s Voices in American Song

Songs by Argento, Barber, Copland, Crumb and Lieberson Marta Fontanals-simmons (mezzosopra­no), Lana Bode (piano)

Delphian DCD34229 59:46 mins Dominick Argento died earlier this year, and it’s apt that his Pulitzer Prize-winning song cycle From the Diary of Virginia Woolf should be included in this recital. The piece was written for Janet Baker, and though Marta Fontanals-simmons’s mezzo is a touch lighter than Baker’s this has advantages in suggesting the vulnerabil­ity of Woolf in the tender retrospect­ion of ‘Parents’. But Fontanals-simmons has plenty of heft in reserve, too. The opening of ‘Fancy’is commanding, and her operatic experience shows in her natural handling of the quasirecit­ative style Argento uses in setting Woolf’s prose reflection­s.

Fontanals-simmons is also notably successful in giving shape and structure to the abstrusene­ss of the five Rilke poems set in

Peter Lieberson’s Rilke Songs. Her excellent breath control and an ability to keep full tone on longer notes play a key role in making these elliptical pieces convincing, as does the expertly calibrated playing of pianist Lana Bode.

Of the three Copland songs to texts by Emily Dickinson, ‘Why do they shut me out of heaven?’ explicitly addresses the recital’s examinatio­n of ‘the expectatio­ns of silence often placed on women, historical­ly and politicall­y’.

It’s a good example of Fontanalss­immons’s tendency to prioritise solidity of vocal production and excellent diction over flashy pointmakin­g and expressive distortion­s. She prefers the words and music to do the talking, and they do so eloquently in the touching account of George Crumb’s ‘Let it be forgotten’ which caps this satisfying recital. Terry Blain



Myrtle & Rose

C Schumann: Lieder; R Schumann: Liederkrei­s,

Opp. 24 & 39

Kyle Stegall (tenor),

Eric Zivin (fortepiano)

Avie AV2407 59:40 mins

This recording sandwiches five songs by Clara Schumann between two cycles by her husband Robert, the Eichendorf­fliederkre­is Op. 39 and the Heineliede­rkreis Op. 24.

The American tenor Kyle

Stegall has a sweet-toned, attractive sound, with moments of great tenderness and beauty.

But his interpreta­tive choices are occasional­ly bewilderin­g. For instance, he chooses to ‘switch off’ his vibrato on the words ‘und meine Seele spannte weit ihre Flügel aus’ (and my soul spread its wings wide) in Schumann’s ‘Mondnacht’, and on the climactic ‘Dich lieb’ ich immerdar’ (I love you forever) in Clara Schumann’s ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’. These end up sounding robotic. The ghostly, austere ‘Auf einer Burg’ on the other hand, is delivered with quite a prosaic sound.

Eric Zivin, on an 1841 Viennese Rausch fortepiano, accompanie­s Stegall sensitivel­y, if occasional­ly splashily (for instance, in Clara Schumann’s ‘O Lust, o Lust’ and ‘Lorelei’). The touches of historical­ly-informed practice, such as temporal dislocatio­n (playing leftand right-hand notes separately) are most welcome. There are other insightful and effective solutions, for example a change of an out-ofrange note in Schumann’s ‘Es treibt mich hin’ worked well.

Altogether, I longed for greater variety of colour, dynamics and tempo – the studio could have helped more with some of this. Stegall inevitably sounds nicely lyrical, even when singing the bitter words of Heinrich Heine. The tempos tend to be on the slow side; moments of excitement are quite far apart. Altogether, an appealing recital, but not a revelatory one. Natasha Loges



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