Not for the casual listener
F. Behrens | Keene, NH USA | 11/14/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There are many recordings I own that are of extreme interest both musically and historically. But when I want some pleasant listening, I put on my 100th "Russian Easter Overture" rather than my second minimalist violin "concerto." So as much as I admire how Ned Rorem is attempting to make the Art Song an American thing, I play him only when I give classes in 20th century music. My admiration was greatly increased when I heard the New World Records release of Rorem's (80575-2). This is the world premier recording of his cycle of 36 songs for four solo voices with piano. Divided into three sections (Beginnings, Middles, Ends), this work draws upon the texts of 24 authors including William Penn, Whitman, Baudelaire, and less known contemporary poets. The order of the works depends on how they fit into one of Rorem's Three Ages of Man. As I was hinting at above, each piece is quite impressive though none has any melody that lingers in the mind afterwards. As with some French art songs, Rorem (who studied in Paris) will now and then (and for no discernible reason, to me) place an accent on the wrong syllable; so we cannot justify the device as "following the natural flow of the language." Perhaps a good deal of Rorem's reputation lies in the fact that he is American and he tries so hard; so perhaps his success is only a "succes d'estime" (as the French put it). Virgil Thomson writes that Rorem will never achieve his goal. But his efforts are honest, I feel, and this work attempts something really big and deserves a careful listening. Whether it will get repeated often is up to each of you. Fully up the challenges of music such as this (although a critic is quoted in the press release as referring to it as "voice-friendly"), the soloists could not be better: Monique McDonald, Dolores Ziegler, Rufus Muller, Kurt Ollmann. Steven Blier and Michael Barrett accompany on the piano. Serious students of the vocal arts will probably love this 2 CD album. More casual listeners might shy away."
Rorem's Art of the Song
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 03/02/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"An evening-long work that comprises 36 songs, divided into three sections, using poems and prose from a variety of writers in English. Rorem has always been a marvel at selecting texts to be sung and he doesn't let us down here. Some groups of songs are performed without breaks; indeed some songs act as bridge passages between the songs on either side of them and go by before you're aware of it.At times his word-setting is awkward. I have the impression, since he is clearly a master word-setter, that this is to catch our attention, rather than being a sign of ineptness or loss of focus. It's as if he's saying "this is important, listen to this."Rorem is certainly one of our master song writers and this may be his best sustained effort in a long and productive career. Huzzah!"
Rorem's Greatest Vocal Statement
C. P. Cooman | Cambridge, MA USA | 02/09/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ned Rorem has certainly devoted a good part of his life to "the art of the song." (His instrumental works are, however, an extremely important and fine part of his output as well.) He had originally wanted to title this evening-long song cycle "The Art of the Song". In it, he wanted to share what he felt were the various insights and techniques that he had gained throughout his many years of experience in the medium.I think that Rorem suceeds in creating one of his finest vocal works and provides a wonderful summing up to his career and his prodigious output. All the familiar elements of his work are here, his harmony, his rhythms, and his always intriguing settings of texts. His choice of texts also tends to be very good and he works well with whatever he has chosen.I think this is a recording that anyone could enjoy and it is certainly a "must have" for fans of Rorem's work."