Steven Mercurio has built quite a career as a conductor. My first experience watching him work was in 1993 when he served as the Music Director of the Spoleto Music Festival in Italy. He made quite a splash with his interpretation of the Berlioz Requiem and gained a following, especially among the women who appreciated the opportunity to look at his face as well as follow his conducting. Please don’t think that he is just a pretty face, though – this man has impeccable credentials. Mercurio received his undergraduate music education at Boston University where he studied under composer David Del Tredici, and won the Composition Award in his junior year. While pursuing his M.A. in composition at Julliard, Mercurio volunteered to be an assistant to Leonard Bernstein in order to get the chance to work with the best. In his own words, he says that he was not Bernstein’s favorite “…but I will say that I probably learned more from those experiences than many of the others.” Mercurio says he learned that music does not have to be classical to be good, and also, sometimes less is more when it comes to composition. This recording gave Mr. Mercurio the opportunity to display his considerable and varied talents. He composed, orchestrated and conducted all the selections on this disc.
The selections on this disc all seem to have a definite Italian accent. Considering the fact that Mercurio spent a year in Italy studying the language, this is not surprising. The orchestrations are sweeping and provide a comfortable foundation for the emotion displayed by the singers. Sumi Jo, the soprano soloist on “A White Rose” and “Good Night,” is a pleasure to listen to. Her beautiful tone is a wonderful compliment to the solo violin in the middle of the first piece. She builds the emotion in these pieces to a natural climax without once getting out of control – no melodrama here. Andrea Bocelli is the master Italian tenor. His lack of sight enables him to concentrate fully on the musical phrasing that he performs so lovingly. Ana Maria Martinez’ singing alone is worth the price of the disc. She has a regal beauty in her voice that should serve as a model for any soprano who wants to sing professionally. My compliments to baritone Gino Quilico for his crystal clear diction. I could understand every single word. He managed to combine instantly recognizable English with warm, romantic tone. Almost half of this disc is dedicated to “Serenade for Tenor and Orchestra,” an intriguing composition that stimulates the listener’s imagination as well as pleases the ear. Listening to The Prague Philharmonic makes me want to hear them in person; they have an exciting sound that is infused with a delightful energy.
This recording would be a fine addition for any collector of vocal music or contemporary composers’ recordings. Mercurio’s music is contemporary yet reassuringly traditional at the same time. He has succeeded in giving the listener something new to explore as well as something familiar to embrace. This music makes me curious about what Mercurio’s movie music might be like. As I listened to the last piece, I could imagine watching a scene that is richly augmented by his music.
Tracklist: A White Rose, Desiderio, Daydream, Good-Night, Paternità, Song in Chaos, Serenade for Tenor and Orchestra
– Ann Stahmer