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Orchestral Music, Vocal Music Media Review



Mixed Art Media: New Recordings by More Women Composers

January 11, 2022 - Easthampton, MA:


Anna Clyne (b. 1980), Mythologies: "Masquerade," "This Midnight Hour," The Seamstress, Night Ferry, "<<rewind<<;" Jennifer Koh, violin (3), Irene Buckley, voice (3), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop (1), Sakari Oramo (2, 3), Andrew Litton (4), & André de Ridder (5), conds; Avie, AV 2434, © 2020, TT 67:24; $15.50, Available from Presto.

Juliana Hall (b. 1958), Bold Beauty: Songs by Juliana Hall: Letters from Edna; 8 Songs for Mezzo-Soprano and Piano, on letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay (1993), Syllables of Velvet, Sentences of Plush; 7 Songs for Soprano and Piano, on letters of Emily Dickinson (1989), Theme in Yellow; 6 Songs for Mezzo-Soprano and Piano, on poems by Amy Lowell [1], Edna St. Vincent Millay [1], and Carl Sandburg [4] (1990), Cameos; 6 Songs for Mezzo-Soprano and Piano, on poems by Molly Fillmore (2018); Molly Fillmore, soprano, Elvia Puccinelli, piano; Blue Griffin BGR, © 2021, TT 61.22. $15.99 from the mfr.

Anna Clyne has dabbled in electro-acoustic music before, but these five works on Mythologies are all for acoustic instruments, though you'll occasionally not believe your ears. The five works were all commissioned by various orchestras, individually or jointly, and premiered by them over a decade (2005-15). However, they were not recorded in chronological order, arranged rather by musical and thematic affinities (the opening and closing works being the shortest and the central ones the longer ones); Clyne's violin concerto, composed for violinist Jennifer Koh and the Chicago SO, is dead center. All is carefully documented in the outstanding and thorough program note by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim in the 12-[unnumbered]- page accompanying booklet, as Clyne's works are all inspired by other art media.

Poems (some with lines or stanzas printed in the notes – W. B. Yeats', the source of the CD's title, and John Keats', which is heard recited in the background during The Seamstress), are involved in several pieces on this CD. A ritual event, a mural that Clyne created, and a VHS movie are her inspiration for others, many with some internal musical references to well-known earlier works by others, and melodies or motives that call other works to mind without quoting them – ballet music springs to my mind. The music is like a soundtrack to the art, taking you on trips of evocative images. Clyne's imagination is wide-ranging and very creative; as a result, the music is very colorful, pleasant, and widely varied. "Fast scales in the strings and winds zigzag along like the tiered staircases in an M.C. Escher print that never quite seem to arrive where they are leading." (p. [6])

The work of art created for the CD by Josh Dorman is used in several ways; it is full-size on the covers (sleeve and booklet), and close-up enlargements of portions are printed on the two insides of the bi-fold sleeve, the booklet's back, and the face of the disk. The imaginative and colorful piece echoes works of earlier periods – Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Breughel come to mind. The product itself is an imaginary, magical work of art that you'll not regret having added to your collection/library. Dorman's vibrant artwork echoes this uncredited sentiment printed on the CD's sleeve: "Like her violin concerto's eponymous seamstress, Clyne's music seems to disentangle older styles to spin new stories from their raw materials, her melodies distilled out of collective memory, yet delivered with the high-voltage energy of our overstimulated time."

Juliana Hall's CD, Bold Beauty, is graced with a work of art by Wes Geiger, a much simpler color-based composition using numerous shades of blue, not unlike Dorman's sky. The cover of the 28-[unnumbered]-page accompanying booklet is without any figures or images, only geometric and nature-shaped forms. Three superimposed circles – one blue, with two of other colors – feature the CD's title on the larger green, and personnel are listed on the smaller yellow ones. Similar blue images appear on the case's back, on the inside of the tray card, and on the CD's face so that they line up with each other.

"Hall is a prolific composer of vocal music, having written some 60 song cycles ["cycles," whose texts tell a story, or like these, have perceived internal inter-connections, have their own title; "sets" do not, and are individual texts that inspired the composer, gathered together for publication purposes] and other works of vocal music" (p. [2]). Check out the composers with whom she studied in the link under her name (One of them, Dominick Argento, who died just under three years ago, was also known particularly for his vocal music. Another, Frederic Rzewski, who also set many texts, died less than a year ago.); you might want to explore their music, too, if you're not familiar with it – some of it is now considered "classic." The first pair of this CD's cycles are of correspondence, the second pair are of poems. Soprano Molly Fillmore is the author of Cameo's concise, cryptic, modern poems, and she commissioned Hall to create the music, making the recording and the selection interesting and unique. The program's structure is brilliant, as are the performances. The booklet contains all the texts, with proper attributions and permissions.

Hall is extraordinary for fitting the music to the text; her music is modern, ultra-lyrical, smooth, tonal, enchanting, and pleasing, effectively capturing their varied natural spoken accents and rhythms. She also manages to capture the characters of the poets whose works I know, and with whose lives I am familiar: my aunt was a great lover of Edna St. Vincent Millay, so I inherited several of her books, and I have visited the home of Emily Dickinson numerous times, and own both "complete" editions (Johnson, 1960, Franklin, 2005) of her poetry. Fillmore is known for her excellent diction; her performance here shows why, and it is also impeccable musically – I often feel I am listening to the author! I confess that this is my first encounter with both artists, and it has, from my first listening, blown me away, as did my first encounter with Clyne's music, which made me pair the two CDs in a single review, because I imagined that many readers, like me, may well not have met either, and ought to meet both.

Pianist Elvia Puccinelli is the founder and artistic director of the International Keyboard Collaborative Arts Society, the first such international professional association. I have personally known and met several pianists who are/were (the one I knew best died last fall) excellent collaborators, some of them also pedagogues of the art; Puccinelli is clearly in that category. Not every pianist is suited for this type of pianism, but it's just as important and demanding as being a virtuosic soloist, in some ways more so, a fact that many classical music listeners and lovers do not realize or understand. They give up their ego for the partnership and the music itself; this applies for instrumental performers as well as vocal ones (my friend did both, and was also a fine soloist & duo-ist [four-hand and/or two-piano partner]; she is sorely missed by many people, including the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, for which she was the "pianist" – the person who plays piano scores in orchestral works that are not concertos – many classical music lovers don't know about the existence of these needs/positions, either). The rewards of collaborative performance are different but equally gratifying for those who exercise it.

This CD is as great as a modern song cycle one gets! Repeated listening has continued to blow me away. Perfection is elusive, but this comes pretty close!