STACY GARROP: In Eleanor’s Words; Silver Dagger; String Quartet No. 3, “Gaia” – Buffy Baggott, mezzo soprano/ Kuang-Hao Huang, piano/ Lincoln Trio/ Biava Quartet – Cedille 90000 122, 67:30 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
In Eleanor’s Words is one of the most stunning song cycles that I have heard in recent years. You would have to question the wisdom of setting six different My Day syndicated newspaper columns that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt ran between 1935 and 1962. I mean how in the world can you take what are supposed to be serious issue-oriented pieces of print and turn them into anything that feel remotely musical? Well, Stacy Garrop has found a way, and not only is she able to squeeze music out of these writings, she is able to keep the original intentions of the words intact and add dramatic effect to them as well. As these are no speech-songs, though there are parts where the words are simply recited; no, these are full-fledged melodic jewels that are, in my mind—and this is a bold statement—worthy to stand alongside the Twelve Songs of Emily Dickinson and Hermit Songs by Copland and Barber respectively, no mean accomplishment, and certainly not one that I utter easily. They are that good, and this is a remarkable series of vignettes that truly marry words and music into “art” songs.
Garrop is currently Associate professor of Composition at the Chicago College of Performing Arts of Roosevelt University. She has enjoyed numerous recordings, commissions, and performances by a wide spectrum of orchestras, soloists, and ensembles, including a recent Composer-in-Residence stint for the Albany Symphony Orchestra in 2009-10. This is my first exposure to her music, but after hearing her Third String Quartet, “Gaia”, based on the mythological Greek goddess of the earth, I will certainly want to turn to her second, “Demons and Angels”, also on Cedille. Garrop, unlike many composers who dive into this most difficult of genres, has a real feel for the string quartet and knows how to use it, employing neither artifice nor contrived “how to write for strings” concepts that so easily give away those composers who have ideas but lack the knowledge as to how to convey them. Garrop gets across just what she needs to when she needs to; her music is evocative without being pretentious and heart-on-sleeve beautiful in her abundant melodies, without shame, embarrassment, or apology. This is one terrific work that doesn’t need the composer’s programmatic description given in the notes to get its point across.
The opening piece, a Piano Trio called Silver Dagger is a short work loosely based on the Romeo and Juliet story while using an Appalachian melody, “Silver Dagger”, whose many variants can all be gathered around the title name as well as “Drowsy Sleeper”, and “Katie Dear”. It is a fine piece that makes a nice opener for this impressive recital.
The sound is vibrant, well balanced and airy. All the performers are first rate, well-rehearsed, and obviously in love with this music. Get this disc—you will be too.
Another ‘Pristine’ look at Eugene Ormandy’s career