Out of the Shadows: Rediscovered American Art songs
Lisa Delan has put together an enjoyable and valuable programme here. These are songs one hears rarely, if at all; some of them, in fact, have never been recorded before. And while the seven composers represented all fall on the conservative side of the musical spectrum, there’s a satisfying sense of stylistic diversity nonetheless.
On the lighter side, we have Paul Nordoff’s songs. He is a fine melodist and at his best can take a simple accompanimental figure and tweak it slightly with a metric shift or harmonic twist to give it interest, as in the sweet, folk-like ‘Willow River’ – although in ‘Music I heard with you’ the sweetness turns saccharine. John Woods Duke’s four EE Cummings settings are in a similar vein, though more virtuoso in their demands. He conveys the poet’s playfulness well, and often imaginatively, but ignores the undercurrents of sensuality and passion, so that a masterful poem like ‘i carry your heart’ sounds simply banal.
With Paul Bowles’s Blue Mountain Ballads we move into deeper waters. The surface is still unfailingly attractive, yet the musical choices always reflect a deep sympathy with Tennessee Williams’s evocative verses. Norman Dello Joio’s Songs of Adieu explore the emotions of heartbreak in an touchingly forthright manner and with an effective whiff of theatricality. These go hand in hand with Stephen Paulus’s dolorous Songs of Love and Longing on classic Japanese tanka.
Three traditional songs, arranged by contemporary composers for soprano, piano and cello, are placed as a kind of interlude. David Garner’s ‘Auld lang syne’ and Jack Perla’s ‘Home, sweet home’ are overwrought but Gordon Getty’s ‘Shenandoah’ is exquisitely spare and full of expressive detail. The recital concludes on a high note with three absolutely gorgeous, melancholy songs by the vastly underrated Randall Thompson.
Delan has a light voice, rather like a soprano version of the American mezzo Joan Morris, yet even when her voice is tested, her musicianship and responsiveness to the text are never in question. Kevin Korth provides superb support, full of colour and character. The recorded sound is up to Pentatone’s usual high standards. Warmly recommended.