Sure on this shining night

Author: 
Patrick O'Connor

Sure on this shining night

  • (The) Children
  • (3) Browning Songs, No. 1, The year's at the spring
  • When stars are in the quiet skies
  • Orpheus with his lute
  • Rose Marie, Rose Marie
  • (The) Side Show
  • Song to the Witch of the Cloisters
  • (4) Songs, No. 3, Sure on this shining night (wds. Agee)
  • (5) Shakespeare Songs, Sigh no more, ladies
  • Songs of the Clown, Come away, death
  • On hearing 'The Last Rose of Summer'
  • (9) English Songs, Echo (wds. Moore: 1942)
  • If I could tell you
  • (The) Collection
  • (The) Lord's Prayer
  • (12) Poems of Emily Dickinson, Nature, the gentlest mother
  • (The) Tiger
  • Never more will the wind
  • Little Elegy
  • (The) Desert Song, One alone
  • Do not go, my love
  • To a Stranger
  • When I have sung my songs
  • These, my Ophelia
  • (2) Poems, An old song re-sung (1917)
  • Naughty Marietta, Ah! sweet mystery of life (Song of the fountain)
  • June Night
  • Triolet

As a student, Robert White went one day in the late-1950s to sing for Virgil Thomson, in his famous apartment at the Chelsea Hotel in New York. White sang “Il mio tesoro” from Don Giovanni and Come into the garden, Maud. When he had finished, “Thomson peered out over his glasses and said in his high-pitched staccato voice, ‘Young man, I suggest that – for the forseeable future – you ditch Donna Anna and stick with Maud’.”
That is just what he did and for much of his career, White has been an advocate for songs in English by American, Irish and English composers. On this new CD he gives us a sort of mini-seminar on twentieth-century American song. “We are the children who play in the park/All the day long from the dawn till the dark”: the opening words by Leonard Feeney in Theodor Chanler’s The Children announce all White’s positive virtues, the clear diction and the sincere commitment. Is his accent Irish or Boston? All the songs are miniatures, from Charles Ives’s The Side Show, which lasts only just over half a minute, to the longest, Aaron Copland’s Nature, the gentlest mother.
While I appreciate the desire to do justice to songs from the musical theatre – Rose Marie, One alone and Ah! sweet mystery of life – Friml, Romberg and Herbert are not flattered by the juxtaposition. What is fascinating is to hear Virgil Thomson’s Sigh no more, ladies just before Korngold’s Come away, death. The Thomson is unmistakably modern, yet with a “kick” as White puts it, that still suggests renaissance music. Korngold’s Shakespeare recalls the Danube rather than the Thames, darkly Mahlerian and it’s funny to think it was composed in Hollywood.
Thomson said “anything can be set to music”, but the composers here have played pretty safe with Shakespeare, Browning (Amy Beach’s exuberant The year’s at the spring), Thomas Moore, Emily Dickinson, Blake and Tagore – Hageman’s Do not go, my love, memorably recorded long ago by Rose Bampton. The most prolific of modern American art-song composers, Ned Rorem, is represented by one of his early songs, Little Elegy, another apt juxtaposition with William Bolcom’s Never more will the wind, another song of lost love.
This is a very charming record. Robert White’s notes add several other personal memories of the composers, from Hindemith conducting to Marc Marder who composed To a Stranger just the week before the disc was made. Samuel Sanders does sterling work at the keyboard; I liked his little flourishes in Rose Marie – as Virgil Thomson wrote, “a bit of counter melody can sometimes add warmth”.'

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