If Rorem's songs are not as well-known as those of Copland or Cole Porter, the two American composers whose songs crop up most frequently on 'serious' singers' programmes, it's probably because they're more difficult to sing. Perhaps the reason is also that, as with Milhaud, there is such a large body of work (more than 250 individual songs), it's difficult to know where to start.
The earliest song here is from 1947 (The Lordly Hudson, on a poem by Paul Goodman), the latest from 1983 (
Rorem called his autobiography Knowing when to stop, and it is a wonderful description of his own songs. The strength and beauty of Rorem's settings lies in their directness and candour. He doesn't linger, the poem and song are one, the melody growing from the accompaniment into the vocal line - and in this does he resemble Poulenc - but just as one seems able to grasp it, it's gone.
Malcolm Martineau plays with an unfailing sensitivity, giving all the tiny shifts of mood from exuberance to elegiac melancholy their exact and appropriate weight. In their conversation printed in the booklet, Rorem says that he would like to compose a cycle for Susan Graham and another singer, perhaps a baritone. But, he adds, he would need a little encouragement. The triumphant success of this recital ought to be enough.'