Roger Quilter: Now sleeps the crimson petal

30 03 2009

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"The fire-fly wakens; waken thou with me"

There is a tenderness to this song which is quite fetching. The piano is light and delicate, gentle. The voice must also maintain a certain tender quality throughout. And yet, the love the singer feels is powerful, palpable, sensuous.

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Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Call

29 03 2009

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"Such a heart as joys in love"

The fourth movement of Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs for choir and baritone soloist, full of light and festivity, calls to mind the joyful banquet of heaven.  I particularly enjoy the recording of the St. Paul’s Cathedral Choristers because the purity of the voices seems appropriate for the music.





Cécile Chaminade: L’anneau d’argent (The Silver Ring)

27 03 2009
Obstinate receiver of so many memories

"Obstinate receiver of so many memories"

Shimmering sounds emanate from the piano and the singer sings a simple melody. The image of a glinting silver ring is easy to call to mind. Chaminade avoids low notes until the singer considers that they want the ring to shine on, even after they have died.

Cecile Chaminade was a pianist who wrote lovely character pieces for piano and for voice at the turn of the Century; clubs devoted to her music sprang up in Europe and America, and she was a regular contributor to popular womens’ magazines, where her music was included along with articles on “How to play my music.” Her works usually have a lovely, catchy main melody, a contrasting middle section, and finally a return to the main melody.

This song is familiar to singers and teachers from its inclusion in Joan Frey Boytim’s First Book of Mezzo-Soprano Solos, but her lovely works in several volumes are definitely worth investigation. The first volume is available online (see above), and additional volumes can be found in libraries and in reprints.

I have submitted a translation to recmusic.org, but until it is posted, I’ve included it here Read the rest of this entry »





Francesco Paolo Tosti: Ideale (The Ideal)

26 03 2009
Come back, dear ideal one, to smile on me again for a moment

"Come back, dear ideal, to smile on me again"

Francesco Paolo Tosti was something of an in-between composer. His works lived between the world of the classical and the popular, causing critics to judge his works harshly, precisely because of his songs’ popular appeal. Today, that distinction has faded, and all one hears is Tosti’s ability to write glorious melodies and set texts beautifully.

This piece is one of the tenor “national anthems” with so many recordings that it is difficult to make a selection. I hesitate to include one particular recording as the model, but feel it is worth noting; Alessandro Moreschi is the only male castrato soprano to have made recordings, and if you’ve never heard him– well, judge for yourself.





Johannes Brahms: Liebesklage des Maedchens (The maiden’s love lament)

24 03 2009
So hat mich Liebe verwundt

"So hat mich Liebe verwund't"

Brahms’s songs sound simple. The mark of a master, though, is to make the difficult seem effortless, and Brahms, Norman, and Barenboim accomplish that in this lover’s lament.

I initially was seeking Brahms’s Ophelia-Lieder, but could not locate a score online. The five songs last less than four minutes, and have also been recorded by Jessye Norman. They are lovely, but almost too simple — after all, they were intended to be sung unaccompanied and have a folk character.





Jean Sibelius: Flickan kom från sin älsklings möte (The Tryst, “The girl came from meeting her lover”)

21 03 2009

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"What has made your cheeks so pale?"

So often, songs are about young love and the loss of innocence. Sibelius’ takes the story of a girl who comes home with telltale signs of her adventures — red fingers and red lips — which Sibelius depicts both heroically and nervously in music. But when she comes home pale and her mother asks why, the music turns dramatic and the girl announces her grave should read that it was her lover’s infidelity that made her pale.

This is a perfect opportuntiy to address the problem of singing works in translation. Though the English version in the score (which, unfortunately, lacks the Swedish) is fairly close to the Swedish, the French singing translation keeps calling the girl “Gretchen,” a clear reference to Goethe’s Faust. There is nothing in the poet’s words to suggest this; Gretchen was certainly not the only girl to be betrayed by a lover!





Franz Liszt: Pace non trovo (I find no peace)

19 03 2009

Death has me in a prison which he neither opens to me nor shuts

"Love has me in a prison which he neither opens to me nor shuts"

Liszt’s three Petrarch Sonnets are virtuosic for both singer and pianist, and the introduction of the first song is one of the most memorable in all of song, in my opinion. Nothing less could accurately express Petrarch’s obsession with a woman whom he could never have.