Classical CD Reviews

PERSICHETTI: Harmonium – Song Cycle for Soprano and Piano (1951); Poems by Wallace Stevens – Sherry Overholt, sop./ Joshua Pierce, piano – MSR Classics

A rarely performed but welcome song cycle by the American Master.

Published on July 29, 2013

PERSICHETTI: Harmonium – Song Cycle for Soprano and Piano, Op. 50 (1951); Poems by Wallace Stevens – Sherry Overholt, sop./ Joshua Pierce, piano – MSR Classics MS 1432, [12/24/2012] 60:17 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

The CD is one of several song cycles composed by Persichetti (1915-1987), this one based on works by Emily Dickinson. The composer has also produced song cycles from the text of other poets, including Whitman, e.e. cummings, and Robert Frost. Persichetti joins Copland and Barber who have done extensive Song Cycles. 

The work, which runs about an hour, is meant to be listened to as a complete performance. Technically, the work for soprano and piano is a very difficult piece, and I think the performance, while earnest, is a bit rough in places. I hear a few missed notes from both Soprano Sherry Overholt and Pianist Joshua Pierce. Given the range and tempi required of the soloists, this may be the best performance we hear of the Harmonium. It is billed as a world premiere recording, and I don’t note any other recordings available.

Song Cycles have never really caught on with American concert audiences, so the market for this disc may be limited to those who enjoy the genre and Persichetti completists. Persichetti is far better known for his orchestral and his wind band music in particular, where he has been widely regarded as a 20th-century master. The poetry of Wallace Stevens is also a bit less accessible than some of the other well known American poets, adding another burden to the listener. Still, this is a worthwhile composition.

In this recording, Persichetti’s idiomatic rhythmic style comes through in a good, but not sparkling recording. The soloists are front and center, with only a limited sense of space at the recording venue of Queens College in New York City.

—Mel Martin

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