* “here/after songs of lost voices” = HEGGIE: Camille Claudel: Into the Fire; Pieces of 9/11: Memories from Houston; Soliloquy; Friendly Persuasions: Homage to Poulenc; Rise & Fall; A Question of Light; Fury of Light – Var. performers – Pentatone Classics (2 discs)

* “here/after songs of lost voices” = JAKE HEGGIE: Camille Claudel: Into the Fire; Pieces of 9/11: Memories from Houston; Soliloquy; Friendly Persuasions: Homage to Poulenc; Rise & Fall; A Question of Light; Fury of Light – Joyce DiDonato – mezzo-sop./ Alexander String Quartet/ Talise Trevigne – sop.; Stephen Costello – tenor; Nathan Gunn – baritone; Carol Wincenc – flute/ Ekaterina Gorlova & Ashley Traughber – sopranos; Dawn Walker – flute; Jose Gonzalez Granero – clarinet; Dawn Harms – violin/ Emil Miland – cello; March Teicholz – guitar; Jake Heggie – p. – Pentatone Classics multichannel SACD PTC 5186 515 (2 discs), 2:11:09 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Jake Heggie is, to my mind, rapidly on his way to becoming the next Ned Rorem. I know that there are others that could at least impinge on this claim, but Heggie more than anyone shows more consistent and passionate persuasion in his ability to project the essence of a song with music that so completely matches the texts. Also known as an opera composer and other genres as well, it is the lyrical element that shines through so brilliantly in all of his works. Even in the instrumental pieces here like Fury of Light and Soliloquy (performed with utter beauty and brilliance by Carol Wincenc, the former for her celebration of 40 years on the stage) the song elements of his art are foremost demonstrated. Both these works in fact have their origin in songs, Fury of Light inspired by poet Mary Oliver’s Sunrise, and incorporating music from Heggie’s opera Moby Dick which he was heavily invested at the time, and Soliloquy based on the song “Beyond” from Pieces of 9/11.

Speaking of which, that work has its origins in texts created from interviews that “librettist” Gene Scheer took from people in the Houston area regarding their memories and experiences of 9/11 (it was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera as a 9/11 memorial piece). The work is actually optimistic in tone even though the stories are of course both pathetic and bittersweet. Heggie somehow finds a way to see through the obvious and find elements of hope and true remembrance. The work uses flute, violin, guitar, and cello, and with up to three sopranos and baritone. Talise Trevigne and Nathan Gunn hold the honors in a piece that requires a lot of intestinal fortitude.

These same two singers are featured in Rise and Fall and A Question of Light, the former having four movements that describe four individual episodes in the life of a woman. “Water Stone”, “Incantation Bowl”, “The Angel’s Wing”, and “The Shaman” speak of falling in love, summoning forces to protect the family, transcendence in death, and a voice from the beyond the grave that comments on all of what has just gone on before. The work reminds me of the paintings The Voyage of Life by Thomas Cole which hang in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, as those explorations in paint are similar in nature to these in music. Trevigne is spectacular both technically and emotively—this woman should have a huge career ahead of her.

A Question of Light shows just how well Nathan Gunn projects the deeply personal responses that Gene Scheer creates from another set of artworks, this time from the Dallas Museum of Art. The five paintings and one sculpture inspired the composer to create rugged and tonally bold harmonic palates while never losing sense of the impressionistic underpinning of much of the melodies. The boldness of Debussy and the angular melodic instincts of Britten are not out of place in describing this music.

Friendly Persuasions is a wild and crazy ride through Heggie’s instrumental fantasies (tenor, flute, clarinet, and cello) superimposed on texts that speak of four important personages in the life of Poulenc: Wanda Landowska, Pierre Bernac, Raymonde Linossier, and Paul Eluard. Heggie does his dead-level best to set us smack in the musical language of Poulenc, and the results are amazing. In fact, I am convinced that had Heggie a talent for painting he could make a fortune in forgery! As is, this piece, written at the request of pianist Malcolm Martineau as part of a Wigmore Hall exploration of Poulenc’s songs, might have even fooled Poulenc. Tenor Stephen Costello soars through it all with a wink and a smile.

Finally, the first piece on the recording and certainly to my mind the greatest, is Camille Claudel: Into the Fire. Claudel was a great sculptress who only came into renown posthumously, based on the reception of a 1988 film about her life (1864-1943). Rodin was her mentor, teacher, and lover, and this alone has the makings for a stormy story, one that led to her incarceration for 30 years in a mental asylum. The poetry for the cycle is drawn from aspects of her life, and her letters and journals as well, starting with the day she enters the asylum. The piece is riveting from start to finish, composed for the 30th anniversary of the Alexander String Quartet, and for Joyce DiDonato, whose singing is simply ravishing, some of the best I have ever heard from her vast recorded legacy. The music for the quartet has flavors of Debussy’s own work for that medium, and the rhythmic elements and hearty tonal melodic contours make for an enthralling experience that must be heard.

This is an outstanding album of the highest quality, and is urged upon you with some immediacy. Pentatone’s SACD sound is sparkling and warm, as usual a model for its kind.

—Steven Ritter

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