Harbison: Due libri dei motetti di Montale; Snow Country; Chorale Cantata; Concerto for Oboe, Clarinet and Strings

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COMPOSERS: Harbison
LABELS: Archetype
WORKS: Due libri dei motetti di Montale; Snow Country; Chorale Cantata; Concerto for Oboe, Clarinet and Strings
PERFORMER: Dawn Upshaw (soprano), Lorraine Hunt (mezzo-soprano), Peggy Pearson (oboe), Jo-Ann Sternberg (clarinet), Lisa Shihoten (violin); Greenleaf Chamber Players, Metamorphosen CO/Scott Yoo
CATALOGUE NO: 60106 (distr. Koch)
The American John Harbison has been in the news recently for his opera The Great Gatsby at the New York Met. This disc presents some of his smaller-scale pieces of the Eighties and Nineties, variously neo-Romantic and neo-Baroque, but never clichéd and rarely dull. The star turn is the Due libri dei motetti di Montale, settings for mezzo and nine instruments of a sequence of Italian poems about the end of an affair. The voice reflects the bleached-out emotions of the poems, while the accompaniment is dazzling in its response to their images. The Chorale Cantata is more austere, a kind of updated Bach cantata in its scoring for soprano, oboe, violin and strings, and its reliance on a Lutheran chorale, with contemporary poems by Michael Fried as its ‘aria’ texts. Snow Country is a poetic if over-extended ‘winter pastorale’ for oboe and strings; the well-shaped Concerto includes some beautifully written dialogues for the solo oboe and clarinet. The oboist Peggy Pearson is outstanding in a first-rate instrumental team, and Lorraine Hunt and Dawn Upshaw are both at their sweetest and truest. Upshaw’s voice swims in a reverberant acoustic not afforded to anyone else in the Cantata, but the recordings are otherwise well-judged. Anthony Burton

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