RICHARD DANIELPOUR: Songs of Solitude; War Songs; Toward the Splendid City – Thomas Hampson, bari./Nashville Sym. Orch./ Giancarlo Guerrero – Naxos

Some very moving and well-written songs on topics of war.

RICHARD DANIELPOUR: Songs of Solitude; War Songs; Toward the Splendid City – Thomas Hampson, bari./Nashville Sym. Orch./Giancarlo Guerrero – Naxos 8.559792, 60:48, (10/14/16) ****:

For people who follow American contemporary classical music only casually composer Richard Danielpour might not be one of the first names they would manage to mention. However, he has for quite some time now been writing emotional and deeply attractive music and should definitely be thought of as one of our greatest living composers.

He also has the gift and talent for being able to write well; technically proficient, well structured and very accessibly for the solo voice and/or chorus. This in indeed not easy to do. A very good example can be found by listening to Danielpour’s Ancient Voices, composed for soprano Hila Plitmann. Here we have two more splendid song cycles for solo voice and orchestra (in this case the soloist is the amazing Thomas Hampson.)

Both Songs of Solitude as well as War Songs are written on themes of loss and war. Songs of Solitude uses poetry by William Butler Yeats to reflect on the moods very shortly after the “9-11” attack on New York. It also followed the finishing of Danielpour’s Requiem, a piece written before the fateful day; but which provided inspiration and reflection, no doubt. It is a beautiful and reflective work but, to the composer’s credit, one that never delves too deeply into melancholy and hardly ever evokes anger or terror through sudden outbursts. In fact, both the “Prologue” and “Epilogue” serve to frame the work and establish the primary tone really effectively.

War Songs uses text by the great and idiomatic ‘voice’ of the American Civil War, Walt Whitman, to commemorate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the great conflict. Danielpour had, in fact, been working on a chamber work using Whitman’s “Come Up from Fields Father” which, in the War Songs, now serves as the heartbreaking finale to this 2008 set. Here, too, we are blessed with the performances of Thomas Hampson and of the ever increasingly amazing Nashville Symphony with Giancarlo Guerrero. Also, similarly to the tone of Songs of Solitude, the emotions are muted and all the more effective and pensive for it.

This disc closes with Toward the Splendid City; Danielpour’s paean to his home city of New York with which he maintains a “love-hate” relationship.  This is a nice, ebullient concert overture style work which was written while finishing a residency with the Seattle Symphony and the composer’s thoughts about returning home. It is a nice piece to be sure but the tone and sound of it bear no connection to the song cycles; threatening even to “destroy the mood” for the listener. I would rather have heard Toward the Splendid City at the front end of this collection or maybe not even include it on this disc.

Either way, Richard Danielpour is a powerful and compelling composer and I urge listening to his music. He belongs on that ‘short list.’

—Daniel Coombs

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