Classical CD Reviews

Once I Was: Songs by RICKY IAN GORDON – Stacey Tappan, sop./ Ricky Ian Gordon, piano – Blue Griffin

The best album of Gordon’s songs that I have heard so far.

Published on March 15, 2013

Once I Was: Songs by RICKY IAN GORDON – Stacey Tappan, sop./ Ricky Ian Gordon, piano – Blue Griffin BGR 265, 77:41 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

For a woman who is making a very successful opera career for herself, it might seem odd that the choice of a debut album for Stacey Tappan would turn to the songs of composer Ricky Ian Gordon, the very nature of which, by its hybrid and overblown comparisons to Sondheim and Bernstein, take the voice to a style which is not exactly Adele in Die Fledermaus or Gilda in Rigoletto, two of her recent roles. Okay, the Stephen/Lenny analogy is rather tired as far as the music of Gordon goes, but it is also very, very true—while Gordon’s lyrics, those he writes himself, are more personalized poetry than the clever and incisive wordplay of Sondheim, whose music matches the reflexive rhythms to a tee, and the overall style of his pop-based art mimics Bernstein’s songs to an amazing degree. This style requires a lot of flexibility in a soprano whose mainstay is the traditional classical album, and far too many are the stars who have tried “crossover” in a way that sounds stilted and mechanical.

Stacey Tappan lets loose in a big way, an uninhibited and fully involved performance idiom that understands Gordon’s music perfectly. And it takes a lot of understanding; besides the aforementioned self-written lyrics he more often chooses poetry by truly great poets, and his melodic lines are neither easy nor simple to navigate, as are his accompaniments, which are more like tone poems of commentary on the words. Tappan has a real understanding of this music, and Gordon’s partnership on the piano provides the springboard for her very effective vocalizing. This is a fine debut by a fine artist, and the best album of Gordon’s songs I have yet heard, realized in vivid and clean sound.

—Steven Ritter

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