DANIELPOUR Songs of Solitude. War Songs
Richard Danielpour composed Songs of Solitude (2002), on poems by Yeats, in the weeks following the September 11 attacks; War Songs (2008), on poems by Whitman, was inspired by photographs published in the New York Times of soldiers killed in the Iraq War. Despite the catastrophic nature of these catalysts, however, neither work displays sufficient musical intensity to amplify or even to suitably illuminate the potent imagery of the texts. More often than not, in fact, the music seems to mute the poetry’s power.
‘Drinking Song’ in Songs of Solitude (a setting of the third and fourth stanzas of Yeats’s ‘Blood and the Moon’), for example, is rendered as a smirking, syncopated, Broadway-style number reminiscent of West Side Story. Danielpour writes brilliantly for orchestra, and his vocal writing respects the texts’ metrical integrity, rendering every word intelligible. Here, though, Yeats’s delicately balanced juxtaposition of earthly suffering and celestial purity is given over to tawdry ordinariness.
Danielpour’s music is most compelling and communicative when at its most economical. ‘These are the clouds’, the fourth of the Songs of Solitude, begins with the baritone accompanied solely by tubular bells – a lovely, Brittenesque effect – until a soft carpet of strings slips in to underscore the poet’s turning to address us as ‘friend’.
Both of these cycles were written for Thomas Hampson, who sings them magnificently. At 60, his voice sounds as fresh as ever, and the baritone’s musical intelligence and literary sensitivity make even the less successful of these songs worthy of study. Hampson’s achievement is even more impressive given that the recordings were made in concert.
Giancarlo Guerrero is an able accompanist, and the Nashville Symphony play beautifully for him. The recording closes with a committed and polished performance of Toward the Splendid City (1992), Danielpour’s rhythmically obsessive, oddly monochromatic portrait of New York City.