Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|John  Harbison, Chicago Chamber Musicians, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson|
Genres: Pop, Classical
Here are two song cycles accompanied by various instruments, a suite called Six American Painters for flute, violin, viola and cello, and a piece called The Three Wise Men, scored for narrator and brass quintet. Throughout... more »
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Here are two song cycles accompanied by various instruments, a suite called Six American Painters for flute, violin, viola and cello, and a piece called The Three Wise Men, scored for narrator and brass quintet. Throughout all of the works Harbison's mastery of color is evident and enchanting. Six American Painters was inspired by Harbison's visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; each attempts to depict, in musical terms, the work of a particular artist. This is very subjective, of course, but the sound worlds Harbison creates are fascinating nonetheless, with the hazy flute in the Winslow Homer section particularly beguiling. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sings six songs on Poems by Elizabeth Bishop: Harbison's music runs from jazzy and bluesy (fine clarinet playing) to lyrical and heartfelt, and the late Hunt Lieberson sings them magnificently. The odd Three Wise Men, with verses from the book of Matthew alternating with brief brass interludes is picturesque if slight. Settings of poems by Goethe ("Book of Hours" and "Seasons") end the CD; Emily Lodine's somewhat undistinguished mezzo nonetheless does justice to the songs; the accompanying instrumentalists, here and throughout, are top notch. --Robert Levine
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J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 11/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Because it is sung magically by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson who died only a few months ago, the most welcome work on this CD, for sentimental reasons, is 'North and South'(1999), a cycle of six songs set to poems of Elizabeth Bishop. Two of them are the 'Ballads for Billie' (Billie Holiday) taken from Bishop's 'Four Songs for a Colored Singer' and if ever there was someone in the classical music world who could set these texts it is John Harbison who is able to distill the bluesy feeling of the texts into his own colorful style. 'North and South' is set for mezzo soprano, English horn, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, double bass. One simply couldn't ask for better performances from the Chicago Chamber Musicians, a group comprised of some of Chicago's finest players. Just listen to Larry Combs's clarinet and Joe Genualdi's violin, for instance. And then there is Hunt Lieberson. She has the rich and confiding voice needed precisely for Bishop's colloquial and intimate texts, and a sultry, bluesy manner exactly right for the two Billie songs. Like the equally talented and beloved Jan DeGaetani before her, she was taken from us far too soon.
The Bishop songs are followed by 'Six American Painters' (2002) set for flute, violin, viola and cello. The six painters, each given a two minute 'portrait' by Harbison, are George Caleb Bingham, Thomas Eakins, Martin Johnson Heade, Winslow Homer, Hans Hofmann, and Richard Diebenkorn, a group that spans almost two hundred years of American painting. Flutist Mathieu Dufour (principal of the Chicago Symphony) is simply magnificent here.
'The Three Wise Men' is for narrator and brass quintet (two trumpets, horn, trombone, tuba) and tells the story of Christ's birth with words from the Gospel of Matthew. Television journalist Bill Kurtis is the narrator. Each section is introduced by his narration and then followed by what Harbison calls 'an engraving' for brass. Particularly nice (and idiomatically written by Harbison) is the tuba part played by Craig Knox, now principal of the Pittsburgh Symphony.
'Book of Hours and Seasons' is a setting of four Goethe poems for mezzo, flute, cello and piano. There is a neat central instrumental interlude featuring Dufour's alto flute. The singer is Emily Lodine whose tremulous voice does not stand close comparison with that of Hunt Lieberson. I'm not clear what led Harbison to write these songs. The Goethe texts do not say much to me, but perhaps that is my own inadequacy. The final song 'Um Mitternacht' is easily the most effective but it does seem odd that it is set for mezzo when the narrator of the poem is a man.
By all means I would recommend this issue if primarily for the opportunity to hear Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sing in the glorious first set of songs. Almost as recommendable is the instrumental 'Six American Painters.' 'The Three Wise Men' is slight but effective. And I'm sure there are those who would find 'Book of Hours and Seasons' more effective than I.