The Complete Songs Of Virgil Thomson = Soloists with 2 pianists & percussion – New World (3 CDs)

by | Nov 16, 2016 | Classical CD Reviews

Absolutely essential listening of a neglected but masterly song composer.

The Complete Songs Of Virgil Thomson = Sarah Pelletier, sop./ Lynne McMurtry, contralto/ William Hite, tenor/ Aaron Engebreth, bari./ Alison d’Amato & Linda Osborn, piano/ John McDonald perc. – New World 80775 (3 CDs), 71:20, 76:04, 50:57 [Distr. by Albany] (4/4/16)*****:

Any reasonably performed rendition of the complete Thomson songs was bound to achieve a five-star rating. Fortunately for us all, this one is outstanding in virtually every way. While it may be true that I can envision better, more star-quality singers in place of what we have here, these folks are no slouches, and an effort like this requiring mastery of an enormous amount of music is in itself a testament to the dedication and talent of these performers. Their attention to diction, vocal line, and beauty of tone only adds to the importance of their accomplishment.

Thomson once said that the great song composers—Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Mahler, Faure, Debussy, Duparc, Ravel, and Poulenc—accomplished their miracles through their ability to make the music “not only of equal quality with the verse but also its mate. It gets inside a poem and stays there, intertwined unforgettably, never to be thought of henceforth as not a part of the whole idea.” It certainly cannot be said that he was across the board successful in always making perfectly wedded text-to-music miracles, but then again, it depends on the nature of the text and the emotive response of the composer as to what is needed in any particular moment. With that in mind, I don’t know of any song in this vast collection that is anything less than affecting and convincing. Thomson was a superb lyricist and a superb setter of some of the greatest poetry ever written. He deserves, and certainly the music-loving public deserves, far more play than he has gotten to this point. This recording is a great place to start, a monumental effort of high significance. America has produced, both in the popular and serious song arena, many great composers. Thomson should take his place among them, and the folks of the Florestan Recital Project that sponsored this effort will get a lot of the credit. Not to be missed!


Disc 1:
1. Vernal Equinox
2. Ah, Sunflower!
3. Susie Asado
4. Preciosilla
5. Five Songs from William Blake: I. The Divine Image
6. Five Songs from William Blake: II. The Tiger
7. Five Songs from William Blake: III. The Land of Dreams
8. Five Songs from William Blake: IV. The Little Black Boy
9. Five Songs from William Blake: V. And Did Those Feet
10. Portrait of F.B. Frances Blood
11. La Valse Grégorienne
12. Film: Deux soeurs qui ne sont pas soeurs
13. The Tiger
14. Le Berceau de Gertrude Stein ou Le Mystère de la rue de Fleurus
15. Les Soirées Bagnolaises
16. La Belle en dormant: I. Pour chercher sur la carte des mers
17. La Belle en dormant: II. La première de toutes
18. La Belle en dormant: III. Mon amour est bon à dire
19. La Belle en dormant: IV. Partis les vaisseaux
20. Trois Poèmes de la Duchesse de Rohan: I. À Son Altesse La Princesse Antoinette Murat
21. Trois Poèmes de la Duchesse de Rohan: II. La Seine
22. Trois Poèmes de la Duchesse de Rohan: III. Jour de chaleur aux bains de mer
23. Air de Phèdre
24. Commentaire sur Saint Jérome
25. Le Singe et le Léopard

Disc 2:
1. At the spring
2. Dirge
3. Shakespeare Songs: I. Was this fair face the cause?
4. Shakespeare Songs: II. Take, O, take those lips away
5. Shakespeare Songs: III. Tell me where is Fancy bred
6. Shakespeare Songs: IV. Pardon, Goddess of the night
7. Shakespeare Songs: V. Sigh no more, ladies
8. Consider, Lord
9. The Bell Doth Toll
10. Remember Adam’s Fall
11. John Peel
12. Look, How The Floor of Heaven
13. If Thou a Reason Dost Desire to Know
14. Praises and Prayers: I. From The Canticle of the Sun
15. II Praises and Prayers: II. My Master Hath a Garden
16. Praises and Prayers: III. Sung by the Shepherds
17. Praises and Prayers: IV. Before Sleeping
18. Praises and Prayers: V. Jerusalem, My Happy Home
19. Three Sentences of Solomon: I. Thou that Dwellest in the Gardens
20. Three Sentences of Solomon: II. Return, O Shulamite!
21. Three Sentences of Solomon: III. I Am My Beloved’s
22. Five Phrases from the Song of Solomon: I. Thou that Dwellest in the Gardens
23. Five Phrases from the Song of Solomon: II. Return, O Shulamite!
24. Five Phrases from the Song of Solomon: III. O, my dove
25. Five Phrases from the Song of Solomon: IV. I Am My Beloved’s
26. Five Phrases from the Song of Solomon: V. By night
27. Oraison funèbre de Henriette-Marie de France, Reine de la Grande-Bretagne
28. Mass for Solo Voice: I. Kyrie Eleison
29. Mass for Solo Voice: II. Gloria In Excelsis
30. Mass for Solo Voice: III. Sanctus
31. Mass for Solo Voice: IV. Benedictus Qui Venit
32. Mass for Solo Voice: V. Agnus Dei

Disc 3:
1. Two By Marianne Moore: I. English Usage or “Strike till the iron is hot”
2. Two By Marianne Moore: II. My Crow Pluto or “Even when the bird is walking we know that it has wings”
3. Go to sleep, Gabriel Liebowitz
4. The Courtship of the Yongly Bongly Bo
5. Chamber Music
6. A Lullaby for Margaret Wheeler
7. From “Sneden’s Landing Variations”
8. What is it?
9. Go to sleep, Pare McTaggett Lorentz, a lullaby
10. The Cat
11. Tres Estampas de Niñez: I. Todas las Horas
12. Tres Estampas de Niñez: II. Son Amigos de Todos
13. Tres Estampas de Niñez: III. Nadie lo Oye como Ellos
14. Go to sleep, Alexander Smallens, Jr.
15. Mostly About Love: I. Love Song
16. Mostly About Love: II. Down at the Docks
17. Mostly About Love: III. Let’s Take a Walk
18. Mostly About Love: IV. A Prayer to Saint Catherine
19. Collected Poems

—Steven Ritter

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