And If the Song be Worth a Smile = BOLCOM: 4 Cabaret Songs; GETTY: Poor Peter; HEGGIE: 4 Songs; GARNER: Annettes-Lieder; CORIGLIANO: 2 Cabaret Songs; WOOLF: Odas de Todo el Mundo – Lisa Delan, soprano/ Susanne Mentzer, mezzo-soprano/ Matt Haimovitz, cello; Kristin Pankonin, piano – Pentatone Multichannel SACD 5186 099, 68:45 ***** [Distr. by Naxos]:
I am not sure I have heard a finer American song album since Songs of America made its debut on Nonesuch about 20 years ago. William Bolcom is a known quantity, and so you will love him or hate him, but there is no better exponent of the American cabaret song living today. His two-volume Cabaret Songs make up the foundational corpus of this effort, and here we have four lovely examples sung to perfection—perhaps one may even say acted—by Lisa Delan. Gordon Getty remains a composer who mystifies me somewhat; I was not that taken with his The White Election (set to poems by Emily Dickinson) also on this same label and reviewed here, finding him too verbose and too musically unsubstantial in the way he crammed so many words into few notes. Other of his works moved me greatly, so there is an inconsistency that one has to come to terms with. Here, in his Poor Peter there seem to be no such problems. This recent work (2008) finds the composer visiting the England of yesteryear through his own poems and music, nicely rendered.
Jake Heggie may be marginally known to a lot of people, especially those on the west coast. I hope that these four songs, mostly based on American folksongs, expand his influence. Many will also remember his opera Dead Man Walking that premiered in San Francisco in 2000, and his music contains great lyrical sentiments. The first of these songs is “My true love hath my heart” by Elizabethan poet Sir Philip Sidney, and is set for vocal duet where Susanne Mentzer joins Delan in the performance. David Garner’s Annettes-Lieder (poems by Annette von Droste-Hulshoff) were first given in 1986. Garner, another west coast musician, set these non-related German poems of the Romantic age for soprano, piano, and cello, marking a serious turn in this recital.
Anything by John Corigliano is worth exploring, but I was not expecting to be so taken with his cabaret songs, which are a real hoot. “Dodecaphonia”, or “They Call Her Twelve-Tone Rose” was written for William Bolcom and Joan Morris, a delightful spoof of the atonal school of composition. “Marvelous Invention” has a woman on the telephone warbling on about her new music player and name dropping every composer and performer she can think of. Luna Pearl Woolf created Odas de Todo el Mundo to disparate poems of Pablo Neruda, ably expressing the wide variety of moods and rhythms present in the texts. Woolf holds degrees in composition from Harvard (1996) and Smith College (2002).
Pentatone captures the sound in as fine a fashion as we have come to expect, and even Ms. Delan seems on better behavior than I thought her in The White Election, fully appraised of the requirements of each of these songs, and easily offering a consequent expressive nuance. However, she still tends to wobble somewhat on higher held notes, but I will not let that detract from this excellent recital.
— Steven Ritter