Rapport – Vocal Chamber Works = BRENDAN MCCONVILLE: La Pioggia nel Pineto; PAUL A. EPSTEIN: 3 Sonnets; HENDRIK HOFMEYR: Ainsi qu’on oit le cerf bruire; NORMAN MATTHEWS: Rossetti Songs; EDWARD FICKLIN: Context Songs; DAVID DEL TREDICI: New Year’s Eve – Melissa Manseau, soprano/ Krista River, mezzo-soprano/ Peggo Hodes, soprano/ Melanie Mitrano, soprano/Paul Dykstra, piano/ Hannah Shields, piano/ David Del Tredici, piano/Tim Gilmore, percussion/ Michal Shein, cello/Beth Pearson, cello/ Jennifer Yeaton-Paris, flute – Navona 5827 (Enhanced CD), 61:16 **1/2 [Distrib. by Naxos]:
This is a collection of recent songs or cycles by contemporary composers, all basically tonal in nature and presenting no challenges in terms of accessibility. Paul Epstein is the only composer I am familiar with besides David Del Tredici, though I think the extended work of Hendrik Hofmeyr the best thing on this disc, almost a set of variations taking each verse from Psalm 42 as it appears in the Genevan Psalter of 1551, based on Louis Bourgeois’s famous melody. It is a stunning piece, brilliantly conceived. Of the remaining works, Brendan McConville’a opening piece caught my attention with its clever and subtle use of percussion as a dramatic ally, while Edward Ficklin’s Context Songs make use of poetry by Oscar Wilde (1 & 2) and Elizabeth Bishop (3) taken from the beginning, middle, and final part of his 2004 opera The Context of Love Lives. These are nicely set and very descriptive and moving portraits.
The rest of the disc was not so inspiring to me, perhaps because much of the playing seemed slightly distorted because of the sound. When things get loud the voices tend to take on a recessed, almost electronic quality that is somewhat irritating. Also, even though every piece save one was recorded in the same place, the balance levels and loudness change between tracks, which also throw a listener off.
There is extended content on the disc itself playable on computer, the most important thing being scores for most of these works, though they are quite small and almost rendered unusable, at least on a laptop. There is also some biographical material not found in the booklet, which contains composer writings about their music. The players all seem competent, especially pianist Paul Dykstra and soprano Melissa Manseau, though all three women have voices with timbres that are not that different in quality, though there again perhaps the sound is playing a part in that perception as well. I wish this could have been better, and even the half of the music I didn’t particularly like is not so bad as all that, so those interested in contemporary song settings might find enjoyment.
— Steven Ritter