The Elora Festival Singers present an exquisite recording of the music of Eric Whitacre, available for the first time on Naxos.
AVAILABLE AT: Sounds of America Reviews
ReviewsDaugherty’sLettersfromLincoln• Miró Quartet live • The Philip Glass Ensemble
Chambonnières ‘Le clavecin français’ Les pièces de clavessin: Pièces in D – Allemande; Allemande la Loureuse; Courante de Madame; Sarabande; Courante et Double; Courante; Pavanne; Sarabande. Pièces in A – Allemande la Rare; Courante et Double; Courante; Sarabande; Gaillairde. Pièces in C – Allemande Le Moutier et Double par Mr Couperin; Allemande; Courante; Courante Sarabande; Autre (pièce); Sarabande grave; Gigue; Chaconne. Pièces in G – Pavane l’entretien des Dieux; Allemande dite l’affligée; Courante (I, 51-52); Courante (I, 55-56); Sarabande; Gigue la Vilageoise; Canaris Karen Flint hpd Plectra F PL21001 (77’ • DDD) Karen Flint is nimble-ingered in Chambonnières’s dances for harpsichord
It isn’t necessary either to be French or a harpsichordist to find Karen Flint’s new recording eminently enjoyable. She performs pieces by
Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, the 17th-century musician who is reputed to have been the founder of the French harpsichord school.
Chambonnières wrote nothing, in fact, but music for harpsichord in dance forms of the time, especially courantes, allemandes, sarabandes and gigues. A fine dancer himself, the composer knew how to use the rhythms to telling effect, while also shaping melodic ideas of fetching grace.
Indeed, although Flint has grouped the 30 short pieces by tonality (D, A, C and G), there’s never a threat of monotony. Chambonnières finds so many inventive ways to tweak a melodic line or harmony within the dance framework that something fresh always emerges. The pieces are elegant and deceptively simple.
Flint, artistic director of Brandywine Baroque in Delaware, plays Chambonnières’s miniatures with elastic sense of phrasing and rhythmic suppleness. Her articulation is crisp or nuanced, as needed, and she deftly emphasises the distinctive character of each dance.
The harpsichord at Flint’s fingertips has more than a little to do with the delightful impression Chambonnières makes. The instrument, a 1635 Ioannes Ruckers built in Antwerp and restored in 2005 by John Phillips, is capable of glistening sonorities that leap from the strings. Chambonnières, who played many harpsichords during his long, provocative career, no doubt would have adored the sound of his music as produced from this splendid creation. Donald Rosenberg
‘Letters from Lincoln’ Daugherty Letters from Lincoln – Lincoln’s Funeral Train; Autobiography; Abraham Lincoln is my Name; Mystic Chords of Memory; Letter to Mrs Bixby; Mrs Lincoln’s Music Box; Gettysburg Address Webern (arr Schwarz) Langsamer Satz. Im Sommerwind Thomas Hampson bar Spokane Symphony / Eckart Preu E1 F E1ECD7725 (51’ • DDD) Lincoln comes to life in Michael Daugherty’s perfectly pitched new work
The principal reason why most Fourth of July concerts appear irretrievably centred on Sousa marches and that timeless classic of Americana, the 1812
Overture, is because the majority of nationally flavoured compositions are not very good. The music too often hovers between uneasy gravity and majestic grandiosity and, even when the patriotism is skilfully tempered, as in Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, the results are dramatically stiff and uncompelling.
All the more reason then to celebrate Michael Daugherty’s Letters from Lincoln. The song-cycle was premiered by Thomas Hampson and the Spokane Symphony in February 2009 and is here revealed not only as one of Daugherty’s best works but as one of the finest historically inspired works to come from any American composer in years.
That’s all the more surprising considering that Daugherty has more often mockingly (but affectionately) mined pop-culture iconography as with his Jackie O, the Superman-inspired Metropolis Symphony and Dead Elvis, a bassoon concerto in which the soloist is required to dress up like Elvis (late Vegas, not early Memphis). Letters from
Lincoln avoids the stodgy and didactic – largely because the 16th president was such a wonderful communicator, and with Daugherty’s texts taken entirely from Lincoln’s own words and writings, the Great Emancipator’s humour, eloquence, historical insight and fatalism come through magnificently.
Daugherty’s cycle manages to pack quite a bit of music and a lot of Lincoln into less than 30 minutes. It begins with a brief orchestral prelude, depicting the president’s funeral train, starting with a dirge-like chord and an elegiac trumpet. Lincoln’s brief self-description in “Autobiography” segues into the witty, self-effacing “Abraham Lincoln is my Name” with its jaunty fiddle tune, the text sung with apt self-mocking swagger by Hampson. After “Mystic Chords of Memory”, which starkly reflects Lincoln’s hatred of war, come the two sections that are the heart of the cycle.
In the “Letter to Mrs Bixby”, Lincoln’s honest, heartfelt words of condolence and empathy for a mother whose five sons were killed in the war make an intensely moving song of empathy and condolence, nicely set off by an obbligato viola. Following a brief note of foreshadowing about son Tad’s pistol comes the final section, the “Gettysburg Address”, which has to be one of the most graceful and natural musical settings of any famous political document, with its contrasting malign middle section and artful interpolation of “Dixie”.
Letters from Lincoln is among Daugherty’s finest works, majestic yet skirting preachiness and deftly communicating the slain president’s humour, sadness and eloquence. Hampson is without peer in this American-flavoured repertoire and strikes an easy balance of vocal strength, expressive phrasing and rustic charm while avoiding pomposity. The Spokane Symphony Orchestra play very well indeed for music director Eckart Preu.
Early orchestral music of Anton Webern seems an odd coupling but actually works quite well with the gentle lyricism of Langsamer Satz and the darker, more brooding chromaticism of Im Sommerwind complementing the Daugherty work and here given evocative, atmospheric performances by Preu and the orchestra.
Short measure at 51 minutes, but Daugherty’s moving, masterful cycle www.gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE AUGUST 2010 IX