Wild Songs = STEVE HEITZEG: Wild Songs; Three Graces for Hildur; Loveblessing; Is Everybody Else Alright?; LORI LAITMAN: Four Emily Dickinson Songs – Polly Butler Cornelius, sop./ Victoria Fischer Faw, piano; Heather Barrington & Patti Cudd, percussion – Innova 825, 35:02 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
I am a little unsure as what to make of this disc. For one thing, 35 minutes of music would have been questionable in the LP age, but for a CD selling for $15 it simply won’t stand. Surely there was more music that could have been added considering how much effort and trouble it takes to produce a recording to begin with.
Often on these sorts of specialized releases the performances and performers are not exactly top notch, but I have to say that soprano Polly Butler Cornelius, who has made a specialty of performing American composers and performs all over the world (but especially in the North Carolina area, including a degree from one of my old Alma Maters, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro) has a focused and beautifully concentrated voice. Her phrasing is superb, breath control artfully articulate, and intonation nearly flawless. Tonally she possesses a nuanced and lovely instrument that serves the music very well. Her pianist and percussionists are all fully professional and give authoritative readings of these pieces.
Though Heitzig is represented with the most compositions, it is Lori Laitman who comes across as the most thoughtful composer. Prolific by any definition, her work encompasses many genres while concentrating specially on vocal music. The Four Emily Dickinson Songs are good examples of an art that is straightforward, melodic, and exceptionally apt in its characterizations of the text.
Steve Heitzeg seems to come to music with environmentalist and political agendas, using music as the expressive model for his propaganda. I don’t think this sort of thing works very well, and one gets lost in the mélange of musical meaning versus political discourse. If one ignores the words—which you shouldn’t do when listening to vocal music—you hear a composer who is fiercely melodic and knows how to integrate disparate sounds into a whole, which is what we have with Wild Songs. But I found his Emily Dickinson songs even more melodic that those of Laitman, though perhaps not as overtly affective. But propaganda or point-of-view texts like some of these he uses don’t resonate with the temperament of the music.
As a debut album I am again surprised that Cornelius didn’t offer more of an expansive repertory and certainly more music in general. The sound is very good, production values top notch with complete texts. But in all honesty I cannot recommend such a sketchy album for so much money. Let’s hope she tries again soon with a fuller and more varied program.