"Despite and Still" – Songs of SAMUEL BARBER – Melissa Fogarty, sop./ Marc Peloquin, p. – Aureole

by | Nov 3, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

“Despite and Still” = BARBER: Hermit Songs, Op. 29; The Secrets of the Old, Op. 13, No. 2; Sure on this shining night, Op. 13, No. 3; Despite and Still, Op. 41; Monks and Raisins, op. 18, No. 2; Rain has fallen, Op. 10, No. 1; 3 Songs, Op. 45 – Melissa Fogarty, soprano/ Marc Peloquin, piano – Aureole Records 101, 48:44 [melissafogarty.com/despiteandstill] *****:
Melissa Fogarty is an independent artist, a graduate of the Eastman School of Music who is skillfully and carefully trying to craft a career for herself by engaging in a wide variety of activities and ensembles that span much new music and premieres of jazz to baroque music, and is seemingly successful at all of them. It’s tough out there these days in the music world and one can hardly blame an upcoming artist for being as versatile and cunning as ever in the pursuit of art. According to her website, she and Marc Peloquin came to the conclusion that the music of Samuel Barber, especially the songs, was being performed less and less, and therefore, especially in the light of his birth centennial (2010), a new recording was due. Wise decision—Barber’s songs are due a renaissance, not only because of the dearth of recordings, but because of the quality as well of those in existence. So far he has mostly been assigned to collections discs, and I know of only two—the 1994 “Secrets of the Old” with Cheryl Studer and Thomas Hampson, and a recent Gerald Finley disc that had the courage to go the composer alone. Of the first, Hampson is sensational while Studer is cold and unpredictable (even though this was an award-winning album), while Finley sings well but often seems to lack understanding of the idiom, especially when compared to Hampson.
That’s about it, so this one is very welcome.
The selection is short, as you see by the headnote, and if more had been included this could almost have been a definitive album. Fogarty is a vivacious artist, communicative, demonstrative, and fastidiously sensitive to the text. Despite a slight penchant for hitting a held high note and then increasing the volume on it, which gives the impression of a non-existent crescendo, her fast vibrato is always in control, and her rhythmic sensibilities, so critical with Barber’s relentless cross-rhythms and tricky melodies (which many times appear only in the piano, the singer taking a sort of obbligato part) are highly accurate. She never neglects the wide-ranging and profoundly emotional tone of this music, often rendered even more difficult because of the composer’s penchant for excessive vocal leaps. Yet on a more settled melodic line, like that of “Sure on this shining night” she does indeed shine, showing that hers is a complete instrument, technically proficient and yet interpretatively sound.
The songs here are from the beginning and ending of Barber’s career and so give us a good sampling of his vocal capabilities. Hermit Songs may very well be the greatest song cycle of the last 100 years, and while I think I prefer the overall heft that Barbara Bonney brings to it (and of course Leontyne Price is simply incomparable here) Fogarty has her own take on these pieces that gives greater contrast to this cycle than either of those fine artists. I must mention pianist Marc Peloquin, easily half responsible for the success of this disc as Barber’s pianism is extraordinarily demanding, truly an equal partner in all his songs. The sound is vivid and nicely captured, very naturalistic because at times the soprano almost seemed to get lost in the piano, a sure indicator of a recital-type sound instead of separate discreet miking. Texts are online (bad, bad, bad!) instead of included, which is a shame because the artwork is so interesting and the CD package well-designed. Short of perfect, yet still very nice. This is a terrific album, and until Renee Fleming takes my advice and records her Barber album (are you listening Renee?) it is likely to stand as the preferred recording of its type currently available.
—Steven Ritter