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Between The Bliss And Me … Songs to poems of Emily Dickinson
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Nature, the gentlest mother [4.21]
When they come back [2.11]
Sleep is supposed to be [2.47]
Heart, we will forget him [2.15]
The world feels dusty [1.57]
I felt a funeral in my brain [2.18]
The chariot [3.19]
Why do they shut me out of heaven? [2.11]
Going to Heaven! [3.07] (all 1950)
Lee HOIBY (1926-2011)*
The shining place [1.37]
A letter [3.04]
How the waters closed [2.11]
Wild nights! [2.24]
There came a wind like a bugle [2.50] (all 1995)
John DUKE (1899-1984)
Bee! I’m expecting you! (1968) [1.06]
Arthur FARWELL (1872-1952)
The butterfly, Op.108/2 [1.43]
Aristocracy, Op.108/7 [0.38]
I’m nobody! Who are you?, Op.108/8 [1.14]
Wild nights!, Op.112/1 [0.44]
The sabbath, Op.105/3 [1.35]
Ernst BACON (1898-1990)
To make a prairie [1.10]
It’s all I have to bring [1.17]
And this of all my hopes [1.51] (all 1944)
Lori LAITMAN (b.1955)
I gained it so (1997) [1.42]
Richard PEARSON-THOMAS (b.1957)
I never saw a moor (1992) [2.26]
Scott GENDEL (b.1977)
Bring me the sunset [5.05]
Wild nights! [1.36] (both 2006)
Julia Faulkner (soprano), Martha Fischer (piano) except *Lee Hoiby (piano)
rec. Mill’s Concert Hall, University of Wisonsin-Madison, 14-16 March 2012 and *30-31 May 2007
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559731 [58.37]

It is not unusual for song recitals on CD to feature the work of a single poet, but this is generally in the context of settings by a single composer - as for example in Finzi’s settings of Hardy. More unexpected is a disc containing settings of words by a single poet but in songs by a number of different composers - one can only readily think of one example, when Hyperion issued a recital some years ago demonstrating the approach of many different English composers to the words of Housman. Even so, the idea is a good one, revealing many facets of the poet as well as affording the opportunity to display the work of composers whose songs might not warrant a complete CD but throw a valuable sidelight onto the approach of other composers to the same or similar material. The poetry of Emily Dickinson (1830-86) has been a major influence on many American composers over the years, in much the same way as Housman inspired a whole generation of English composers during the twentieth century. In fact there have been a couple of previous anthologies of such settings issued in 2003 under the title of The poetess sings (and another, entitled Make me a picture of the sun, is due for release during 2013), but it is a testimony to the number of Dickinson settings available from which a selection can be made that there is very little duplication between the contents of the discs.
 
This CD in fact focuses on the work of two major composers, including a complete performance of Lee Hoiby’s cycle The shining place which seems to have been recorded at the same time as an earlier Naxos CD of Hoiby songs but for which room could not be found on the original issue. Hoiby’s music deserves to be much better known - his operatic setting of The Tempest is truer to Shakespeare than Thomas Adès’s acclaimed treatment, with the text in the latter recast into rhyming couplets. He was shamefully neglected during most of his lifetime, only finally gaining a degree of recognition shortly before his death. Here he is an excellent accompanist in his own music, inflecting the notes with the understanding that only a composer can bring; and the music itself is very beautiful indeed, with a marvellously stirring piano peroration to the final song.
 
The other composer given the principal share of this disc is Aaron Copland, and we have here nine of the twelve settings of Emily Dickinson which he made in 1950. It is a pity perhaps that we could not have been given the complete cycle - there would have been room on the CD. These settings are all gems, written in Copland’s most carefully considered neo-classical style, before he embraced twelve-tone writing, with a cool treatment of the words. This is probably one of the greatest of all American song cycles, worthy to be considered alongside the best of Britten. The setting of Heart, we will forget him has an aching tenderness that bruises gently but with passion.
 
Most of the other works on this disc have much more rarity value. Of the composers featured, Arthur Farwell and Ernst Bacon made something of a speciality of settings of Emily Dickinson (some forty and seventy settings respectively). Farwell is the earliest composer represented here, and his style is somewhat reminiscent of his contemporary Amy Beach (1869-1944) with a slight flavouring of Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920); but a setting like I’m nobody! Who are you? has a more elliptical and modern approach to the words, and his treatment of Wild nights! (one of three on this disc) is the shortest and most direct of all. Bacon’s settings of Dickinson have featured on a number of previous releases - including one with the composer himself as pianist - but I can’t find that And this of all my hopes has ever been recorded before, and it is a particularly lovely setting with a lambent piano accompaniment.
 
John Duke is represented by a single setting, a lively but not conspicuously memorable setting of a colloquy between a bee and a fly. We also have a single song extracted from a cycle Between the bliss and me by Lori Laitman, oddly enough the only female composer here, and one by Richard Pearson-Thomas; both are beautifully poised little settings, the Pearson-Thomas having a particularly romantic warmth. Scott Gendel provides two songs from his cycle Forgotten light, commissioned and first performed by Julia Faulkner in 2006, and these are the most recent items here. The song Bring me the sunset is the longest single item on the disc, and is a lovely piece with a discursive vocal line and an accompaniment of jewelled Britten-like precision; his setting of Wild nights!, on the other hand, is curiously uninvolved by comparison with the treatment of the same words by Farwell and Hoiby.
 
We are not given texts, but then the poems of Emily Dickinson may be readily found elsewhere and Julia Faulkner’s diction is usually good enough to enable us to distinguish the words. Unfortunately we are not given much information either on exactly when these songs were written - I have provided such information as I could find above - which would be helpful in providing historical context for some of the more obscure composers included here. Julia Faulkner’s own note states that she has “simply chosen songs that I love,” and that is amply borne out by her involved and intense performances. Martha Fischer copes admirably with the sometimes quite elaborately conceived accompaniments, and is well placed in the recording.
 
Paul Corfield Godfrey 

 

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