American Orchestral Song = THOMSON: The Feast of Love; CARPENTER: Water-Colors; HARRIS: Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun; GRIFFES: Ancient China and Japan; more – Patrick Mason, baritone/ Odense Symphony Orch./Paul Mann – Bridge

by | Jun 25, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

American Orchestral Song = THOMSON: The Feast of Love; CARPENTER: Water-Colors; HARRIS: Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun; GRIFFES: Five poems of Ancient China and Japan; PARKER: Cahal Mor of the Wine-Red Hand – Patrick Mason, baritone/ Odense Symphony Orchestra/ Paul Mann, conductor – Bridge 9254, 57:56 ***** [Distr. by Albany]:

Patrick Mason’s decision to delve into the genre of the American song has resulted in this wonderful disc of music that has not, amazingly enough, found its way into either the concert hall or recordings (with the exception of Howard Hanson’s reading of the Thomson piece). There is not a loser here, and all of them have a gripping hold on the imagination and an ability to sweeten a listener’s ear with some music that is melodious, meaningful, and moving.

The Feast of Love
is one of Thomson’s most lyrical and rapturous works. Taken from the poetry of the Pervigilium Veneris (2nd-4th century A.D., “Festival of Venus”), the music celebrates love in all of its varied facets: from the blatantly erotic to the subtle nuances of love in nature. The work as composed (sans brass in the orchestra) for the birthday tribute of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge at the Library of Congress in 1964. Water-Colors is a work by Chicago composer John Alden Carpenter (1876-1951), surprisingly jazzy (and well ahead of his time), and yet impressionistically based under the heavy influence of Debussy. But Carpenter maintains his own voice, and the four movements based on Chinese poems (“On a Screen”, “The Odalisque”, “Highwaymen”, “To a Young Gentleman“) are vividly descriptive in the composer’s wonderful sense of melody and his talent for orchestration.

Give Me the Splendid Slient Sun is to me the greatest work on this disc, for two reasons: the poetry is of Walt Whitman, and the music is by one of America’s unheralded greats, Roy Harris, surely the best composer here. Harris’s trademark optimism/pessimism stamp is flown full-fledged here, and a lot of this work reminds me of parts of the seminal Third Symphony, for my money the greatest American symphony ever penned. Whitman’s words soar, as they can do little else, and Harris seems to catch the flavor of this Civil War sentiment very well. The notes say that this may be one of the composer’s greatest works, and this is not hyperbole at all.

We end with Horatio Parker’s Cahal Mor of the Wine-Red Hand, based on a poem by the Irishman James Clarence Mangan, who wrote this symbolist fantasy on a Celtic space from the thirteenth century. The work is overtly Wagnerian–indeed, almost blatant plagiarism from the pages of Die Walkure–but redeems itself by the end with a fine display of Parker’s art, so often disdained in pages written to defend famous pupil Charles Ives. The man could compose, and with substantial skill, though his name will never make it to the ranks of the other composers represented here. But it is good to have a sampling of his work.

Mason sings these works like his loves them and means every word, and the Odense Phil plays the well–not the greatest I can imagine, but they certainly are proficient. This is a disc not to be missed if you love great American music, and well-recorded at that.

 — Steven Ritter

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