“Passing By” Songs by Jake Heggie – Isabel Bayrakdarian, soprano/ Zheng Cao, mezzo-soprano/ Joyce DiDonato, soprano/ Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano, Paul Groves, tenor/ Keith Phares, baritone/ Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano/ Jake Heggie, piano – Avie

by | Oct 23, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

“Passing By” Songs by Jake Heggie – Isabel Bayrakdarian, soprano/ Zheng Cao, mezzo-soprano/ Joyce DiDonato, soprano/ Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano, Paul Groves, tenor/ Keith Phares, baritone/ Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano/ Dawn Harms, violin/ CarlaMaria Rodrigues, viola/ Emil Miland, cello/ Jake Heggie, piano – Avie 2198, 73:39 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:

You’ve got to love Jake Heggie; even though after all these years and all these modernist rants and complaints and trendy fads that seem to pass through the classical music world, Heggie remains a committed romantic—not neo-romantic, but full-fluffed romantic. But it’s not just overblown passion or a penchant for extremely tuneful music; while his music is remarkably melodic and memorable, such as the likes of Bernstein or even Gershwin in some cases, it also displays an intense longing after craft—though not quite in the same league, Heggie’s music is inundated with the same sense of construction and no wasted notes as the music of Samuel Barber, perhaps the most thorough music constructor of the last century in America.

This disc of songs should attract attention simply by the names of the personnel recording them, an easy indication that singers of this caliber find Heggie’s music worth investing time in. I will say from the start that there is nothing here that is any thing less than engrossing. To touch on the best and “worst” (if such a category can be applied here), the female duets "Facing Forward/Looking Back" are to me the weakest of the lot; perhaps I am too enamored with what Robert Schumann did in his duets to be as convinced by these. On the flip side, surely his settings of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry in Songs and Sonnets to Ophelia are the most dynamic and exquisitely-wrought works on this recital, the marvelous Isabel Bayrakdarian rendering them with nuanced inflections and gorgeous emotive meaning.

But the other singers are also wonderful (and the music no less so), and I was particularly happy to her Frederica von Stadt sounding as fresh and youthful in this music as she ever has, while Joyce DiDonato and Susan Graham show why they are at the top of their particular games at the moment—Zheng Cao, Paul Groves, and Keith Phares also no less their equals here.

This is a stunning CD, easily one of the highlight vocal discs for 2010, and a pleasure to give my highest recommendation.

TrackList:

1. A Lucky Child, from At the Statue of Venus (McNally)
Susan Graham

Some Times of Day (Carver)
three songs for mezzo-soprano and piano trio
2. The Minuet
3. Simple
4. The Best Time of the Day
Zheng Cao

Facing Forward/Looking Back
duets for two women and piano
5. Motherwit (Baldridge)*
6. Grounded (Zukerman)**
7. Mother in the Mirror (Maupin)*
8. Facing Forward (Heggie)**
Frederica von Stade with Susan Graham* and Joyce DiDonato**

Here and Gone
songs and duets for tenor, baritone and piano quartet
9. The Farms of Home (Housman)
10. In Praise of Songs That Die (Lindsay)
11. Stars (Housman)
12. The Factory Window Song (Lindsay)
13. In the Morning (Housman)
14. Because I Liked You Better (Housman)
15. The Half-Moon Westers Low (Housman)
Paul Groves and Keith Phares

16. To Say Before Going to Sleep (Rilke, trans. by A.E. Flemming)
Joyce DiDonato

Songs and Sonnets to Ophelia
17. Ophelia’s Song (Heggie)
18. Women Have Loved Before (Millay)
19. Not in a Silver Casket (Millay)
20. Spring (Millay)
Isabel Bayrakdarian

21. Final Monologue from Master Class (McNally)

— Steven Ritter

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