“Songs from Chicago” – Thomas Hampson, baritone/ Kuang-Hao Huang, piano – Cedille CDR 90000 180, 60:31 *****:

It’s been a while since I have heard a new album by the now-venerable Thomas Hampson, so it came as a double pleasure to encounter Songs from Chicago both from a re-acquaintance and new label experience—New label to Hampson, not to me, as Cedille has long been a personal favorite. I was a bit perplexed in the Hampson/Chicago connection, but the notes explain that Hampson has long been a fan of Cedille, and a conversation with president and producer James Ginsburg led to the formulation of this album, the composers linked together by their connections with the city of Chicago.

I must confess I had never given this connection much thought—yet the prolific Ernest Bacon, Chicago born and bred, ranks as one of America’s finest song composers, though that moniker hardly defines him. These seven Whitman settings are a marvel of wedded text to music, and evocative of an America long past yet not forgotten.

John Alden Carpenter was a lifelong resident of the Windy City, and after studies at Harvard he returned home to compose and work in his father’s business. Despite some success in the orchestral realm, it is his songs that endure, and his Gitanjali and Four Negro Songs (three included here) are his most famous.

Teacher, student, and friends, Florence Price and Margaret Bonds, were dedicated to the poetry of Langston Hughes. Price, whose Symphony in E Minor was the first composition of a black woman to be performed by a major American orchestra (the Chicago Symphony), was born in Little Rock Arkansas, but moved to Chicago post-1927. She was prolific (over 300 songs) though most are unpublished. Hopefully this album will change that. Bonds, as mentioned a student of Price, was the first black woman to perform a concerto with a major American orchestra, in this case also the CSO. The work performed: Price’s Piano Concerto. Her friendship with Hughes led to many compositions setting the poet.

Finally, the short work by Louis Campbell-Tipton (1877-1921), a Chicagoan who settled in Europe, rounds out the program, his Whitman Elegy a beautiful miniature. Hampson is in fine form here, hardly in his prime, but always the most intelligent of singers, and knowing what music to sing at this point in life, and how to sing it. It is always a pleasure to hear this remarkable voice from such an incredible artist. Pianist Kuang-Hao Huang proves himself equally enthusiastic with his perceptive pianism.

Tracklist:
Ernst Bacon (1898–1990) – Poems by Walt Whitman
1 Lingering Last Drops
2 World Take Good Notice
3 The Last Invocation
4 On the Frontier
5 The Divine Ship
6 Darest thou Now, O Soul
7 Grand Is the Seen

Florence Price (1888–1953) – Poems by Langston Hughes
8 Song To The Dark Virgin
9 My Dream

John Alden Carpenter (1876–1951) – from Four Negro Songs, poems by Langston Hughes
10 Shake your brown feet, honey
11 The Cryin’ Blues
12 Jazz-Boys

Margaret Bonds (1913–1972) – Three Dream Portraits, poems by Langston Hughes
13 Minstrel Man
14 Dream Variation
15 I, Too
16 The Negro Speaks of Rivers

Louis Campbell-Tipton (1877–1921) – poem by Walt Whitman
17 Elegy

John Alden Carpenter (1876–1951) – Gitanjali, poems by Rabindranath Tagore
18 Credo (reading)
19 When I bring to you colour’d toys
20 On the day when death will knock at thy door
21 The Sleep that flits on Baby’s Eyes
22 I am like a Remnant of a Cloud of Autumn
23 On the Seashore of Endless Worlds
24 Light, My Light
25 Epilogue (reading)

More information and music samples at the Cedille website:

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