Unexpected Shadows – The Breaking Waves; The Work at Hand; If I Were You; Of Gods and Cats, etc
Jamie Barton (mezzo-soprano), Jake Heggie (piano), Matt Haimowitz (cello)
Pentatone PTC 5186 836 65:09 mins
Jamie Barton has won admiration for her operatic roles as well as her advocacy for diversity within classical music (famously flying the Pride flag at the 2019 Last Night of the Proms). In her latest recording, Barton shows that she is also a dab hand at contemporary repertoire and artistry on a more intimate scale. Unexpected Shadows is a greatest hits collection of songs and arias by Jake Heggie. The connection? Each work represents accomplished, intelligent and iconic women – as character, creator and muse.
Three song cycles comprise the bulk of the programme. Statuesque (2005) tells the stories behind five famous sculptures depicting the female form, and was originally written for voice and seven instruments – replaced here by solo piano, performed by Heggie himself. Though composers have long sought inspiration from visual art, Statuesque is unusual in taking the female perspective. Barton balances the serious underlying message (‘No interest in what I’m thinking or dreaming?’ asks the Winged Victory of Samothrace, ‘you don’t even seem to notice or care I don’t have a head’) with jaunty, jazz-like spoken phrases.
Iconic Legacies (2015) follows a similar concept as it describes objects in the Smithsonian associated with First Ladies, such as Eleanor Roosevelt’s mink coat; while The Work at Hand (set to poetry by Laura Morefield), in which cellist Matt Haimowitz joins pianist and singer, sensitively explores a terminal cancer diagnosis. Throughout this recital, Barton and Heggie move seamlessly from the dramatic (‘Ice Cube Aria’ from the opera If I were you) to the droll (‘Once Upon a Universe’ in Of Gods and Cats), the mezzo-soprano’s tone clear as a bell.