COPLAND Lincoln Portrait LANG mountain MUHLY Pleasure Ground
These are all live recordings, followed by applause, forming the first CD by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Louis Langrée. Past speakers in Lincoln Portrait have been wide-ranging: Copland himself; presidents Clinton and Obama and film and media celebrities. Maya Angelou recorded it only the year before she died last May and her reading is perhaps understandably rather subdued.
David Lang has made an impact with his post-minimalist style. Mountain is a tribute to Copland and arose from a vista in Vermont. A mountain is an eloquent symbol for Copland, especially his tougher works. Lang starts with a repeated but varied short outburst, about every five seconds, first heard on its own. Then, after a pause, sustained sounds begin to appear in between the attacks and they become increasingly lyrical. That’s what this finely engineered piece is about and it works perfectly.
Nico Muhly’s Pleasure Ground uses a text taken from the writings of Frederick Law Olmsted, the 19th-century landscape architect responsible for New York’s Central Park and many more. The first song muses on the connection between art and nature; the second deals with wounded soldiers convalescing; and finally Olmsted urges the planting of trees. This makes absolute environmental sense but Muhly’s settings are bland and Wyatt’s baritone lacks contrast.