Songs for Murdered Sisters
Joshua Hopkins (baritone), Jake Heggie (piano)
Pentatone PTC 5186 270 (digital only) 27:22 mins
This striking and moving piece was prompted by the murder of Nathalie Warmerdam, the sister of Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins. Warmerdam was killed by her former partner in 2015 and, as Hopkins describes, the tragedy not only devastated his family and community but also opened the singer’s eyes ‘to the worldwide epidemic of gender-based violence.’ In response, Hopkins set about commissioning the song cycle from composer Jake Heggie and the writer Margaret Atwood. The resulting work, Songs for Murdered Sisters, is at once powerful and tender, and also prompts a remarkable vocal performance from Hopkins.
The song cycle takes Schubert’s Winterreise as its starting point, and casts Hopkins as a wanderer journeying through the world, seeking to make sense of these terrible events. Atwood’s eight song texts are unflinching in tone but nonetheless vibrant in their imagery which lends a folkloric quality to the protagonist’s quest. Heggie’s settings are richly tonal and on occasion also mingle effectively with Schubert’s own musical language: ‘Bird Soul’ has strong echoes of the fairytale harmonies that underpin Schubert’s ‘Die Krähe’. Beautifully performed here, the cycle ultimately transcends the terrible circumstances of its conception to offer both a strident piece of social activism and an affecting work of art.