WORKS: Old American Songs; Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson; Billy the Kid (highlights); Down a Country Lane
PERFORMER: Dawn Upshaw (soprano)Thomas Hampson (baritone)St Paul CO/Hugh Wolff
CATALOGUE NO: 9031-77310-2 DDD
Hot on the heels of DG’s acclaimed anthology of songs by Samuel Barber, and fully justifying the revival of interest in American song as a genre, comes this splendid recital of Copland’s two best-known works for solo voice.
The two-part cycle Old American Songs embraces a variety of styles – hymn-like Shaker tunes, lullabies, banjo pieces and political songs – all firmly rooted in the American folk tradition. Thomas Hampson gives a terrific performance, his tone rich and superbly modulated, and his manner dramatic and unaffected, slipping effortlessly from the gentle style of the devotional pieces to the brashness of the minstrel songs. Even the ridiculous ‘I Bought Me a Cat’, a sort of US ‘Old Macdonald had a farm’ – in which the singer has to make a variety of absurd farmyard noises – is persuasively sung, with no hint of self-consciousness.
Dawn Upshaw gives an exquisite account of the ‘Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson’ (arranged by Copland in 1958 from his original set of 12 songs). These evocative and unconventional settings, with their irregular metres and leaping vocal lines, marvellously reflect the strangeness of Dickinson’s texts and give Upshaw’s limpid and shining soprano the chance to soar.
The disc also includes two orchestral pieces, Down a Country Lane and a selection from the glorious Billy the Kid Suite, both of which allow attention to be focused on the exhilarating and fiercely idiomatic playing of the excellent St Paul Chamber Orchestra. A treat. Claire Wrathall