Susan Graham (mezzo-soprano) Malcolm Martineau (piano) with Ensemble Oriol
Erato 8573-80222-2 61'00"
Ned Rorem (b. 1923) is a widely respected American composer of the older
generation but, as interviewed in the May 2000 Gramophone, a disappointed
man. This CD covers his prolific song-writing ( 250 over five decades)
and his instrumental style too is essentially vocal. He feels sidelined and
'a little left out' in the current musical climate, with the commercialised
cult of the star performer and by general disinterest in art song and his
perspective that 'the song recital is a lost product'.
The selection of 32 songs by Susan Graham and Martin Martineau documents
places where he has lived, New York, Paris and New Mexico, with settings
of Tennyson, Yeats, Whitman, Frost and many lesser known poets. The
juxtapositions are musically satisfying and enlightening - Rorem is proud
that whatever is thought about his songs, 'I never set a bad poem'. No dates
of poems or settings are given. Many date from the '50s when he lived in
France, but only one is set to French words. The idiom is clean and clear;
Rorem has no truck with avant-gardist compexities.
It is a pleasure to encounter an unfamiliar song writer in a full collection,
and these stand up well. Susan Graham has a most attractive mezzo voice and
her personal enthusiasm, which led to her suggesting the CD, comes through
brightly. It shows Rorem as an accessible but far from simplistic composer
who should feature in song programmes more frequently. Diction is clear,
but provision of all the words has made it easier to grasp the poems as a
whole and freed attention for the music. The accompaniment by Martin Martineau
is of his usual high standard. Voice and piano are well balanced and recorded
by Erato. Some of the songs are accompanied by piano with strings, which
A CD which will give a lot of pleasure.
Peter Grahame Woolf