Abraham Lincoln Portraits = Works by COPLAND, IVES, HARRIS, PERSICHETTI, BACON, GOULD, McKAY, TUROK – Naxos (2 CDs)

by | May 26, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Abraham Lincoln Portraits = IVES: Lincoln, the Great Commoner; PERSICHETTI: A Lincoln Address; HARRIS: Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight; BACON: Ford’s Theatre: A Few Glimpses of Easter Week 1865; GOULD: Lincoln Legend; McKAY: To a Liberator (A Lincoln Tribute); TUROK: Variations on an American Song: Aspects of Lincoln and Liberty; COPLAND: A Lincoln Portrait – Barry Scott, narrator /Sharon Mabry, mezzo-soprano/ Mary Kathryn Van Osdale, violin/ Anthony LaMarchina, cello /Roger Wiesmeyer, piano/ Nashville Symphony Chorus/ Nashville Symphony/Leonard Slatkin – Naxos (2 CDs) 8.559373-74 ****:

This two-disc issue contains a variety of tributes to Abraham Lincoln by American composers that celebrates the bi-centennial of the great statesman’s birth. Some set Lincoln’s words to music – instrumental, vocal and choral. Others set poets’ words about Lincoln to music and “the purely instrumental selections draw their inspiration from events in Lincoln’s life.” Ives’ brief choral work, Lincoln, The Great Commoner uses brief excerpts of well known American hymns entangled in a complex orchestral tapestry. Persichetti’s A Lincoln Address was commissioned for Richard Nixon’s 1973 inauguration and then withdrawn because the composer wouldn’t excise parts of Lincoln’s second inaugural address that might have ruffled some about America’s participation in the Vietnam War. It’s a reverential but uninspired work with a quiet, moving conclusion.

Roy Harris’ Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight, A Cantata for Lamentation for mezzo-soprano and piano trio is set to a poem by Vachel Lindsay. It’s a touching tribute to Lincoln’s hopes and fears that’s relevant today as the world searches for the peace Lincoln so fervently held close to his heart. This work is one of the best in the set. Ernst Bacon’s half-hour orchestral suite, Ford’s Theatre: A Few Glimpses of Easter Week 1865 comprises twelve miniatures that memorialize the events of the week that Lincoln was assassinated. Highlights include a jazzy march, “Passing Troops,” a leisurely ode to life on a riverboat, “The River Queen,” and a harrowing and poignant depiction of the day Lincoln was assassinated, “Good Friday, 1865.” It’s effective program music, very well performed and recorded.

McKay’s To a Liberator (A Lincoln Tribute) of 1940 is homage to the democratic ideals embodied by Lincoln. The lovely choral movement stands out, but the remainder is unmemorable. Paul Turok’s Variations on an American Song: Aspects of Lincoln and Liberty (1964) is an ingeniously scored set of theme and variations based on seven different notes that “replicates some of the patriotic swagger of Lincoln’s 1859 presidential campaign. Its rollicking vitality is convincing.

The final work, the classic and well known Copland score, Lincoln Portrait, here receives a facile, spirited and monumental performance. Narrator Barry Scott – founder and producing artistic director of the American Negro Playwright Theatre – delivers Lincoln’s memorable words with a dramatic urgency and conviction that is overwhelming. This American masterpiece is given the kind of performance that brought tears to my eyes and is worth the price of the disc alone.

This disc is valuable more as musical evidence of the power of Lincoln to move composers rather than revealing works of musical significance. Nevertheless, there’s much pleasure here and then there is the Copland…

— Robert Moon

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