New Taylor discoveries make for enthralling listening.
“A Lovely Light” – DEEMS TAYLOR: Night is My Sister, and How Deep In Love; Two Figs From Thistles; Ebb; Lament; Thanks Be to God the World Is Wide; To the Not Impossible Him; The Betrothal; Exiled; I Know I Am But Summer to Your Heart; The Return from Town; Girometta; Time Enough; The Wedding Dress; The Faithless Lover; Song To A Sleeping Child; Twenty, Eighteen; Nay, My Years Are Tender; Fair Yolanthe; May-Day Carol; Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin; The Banks o’ Doon; The Ways of the World; The Siesta; In the Country – Elizabeth Tryon, sop./ George Small, p. – Centaur CRC 3424, 53:34 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
History will be forever grateful that the so-called “Dean of American Music”, Deems Taylor, decided not to become an architect. He subsequently embraced composition, despite minimal training, and went on to become a critic of no little repute, as well as a cheerleader for American music—it is he who is the narrator in Disney’s Fantasia. Basically a conservative in all things musical, his initial forays into opera were very well-received, with the number of Metropolitan Opera performances for The King’s Henchman and Peter Ibbetson surpassing any opera of any other American composer, amazing though that fact is. [There is also his wonderful instrumental Through the Looking Glass, on Alice in Wonderland…Ed.]
However, posterity has not been kind to the composer. By my count there are only three albums dedicated (mostly) solely to him currently available, two on Naxos, and this one. Fortunately, the one under review is something of a special edition. Edna St. Vincent Millay, friend of Taylor and librettist for The King’s Henchman, collaborated on a series of songs titled A Lovely Light, discovered for the first time by the composer’s grandson in 2014. Also included in this fresh unearthing are several songs set to poems by Robert Burns, and twentieth century poets Brian Hooker and Mary Kennedy, who doubled as Taylor’s wife—his second out of three. [He was also friends of George Gershwin and Jerome Kern…Ed.]
Taylor is a witty and enlivening composer, a master at word setting, and at detecting the mood of any given passage. His songs are understandable and quite moving, a testimony to all those things found so popular in his operas, definitely worth revival. Soprano Elizabeth Tryon is being called a “classical crossover artist”, which doesn’t hold much weight in my book, and according to her own website, she is a pop songwriter as well. The videos she has starred in are completely in the pop world, and that seems to have been her genesis as a young girl, being told later that she had the voice of an opera singer, so why not? That said, she does great service to these songs, singing with inflection and tone that Taylor would have undoubtedly been happy with. In fact, this album reminds me in many ways of Sarah Brightman’s sojourn into Benjamin Britten’s Folk Songs on EMI many years ago, still one of her best efforts ever. Hopefully Tryon will look back on this album in that way too.