Bolcom: Songs of innocence and of experience

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Songs of innocence and of experience
PERFORMER: Songs of Innocence and of ExperienceChristine Brewer, Measha Brueggergosman, Ilana Davidson, Linda Hohenfeld, Carmen Pelton (soprano), Joan Morris (mezzo-soprano), Marietta Simpson (contralto), Thomas Young (tenor), Nmon Ford (baritone); University of M
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559216-18
This is William Bolcom’s magnum opus: a setting (completed in 1982) of all 47 of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, for a vast array of forces, and in styles ranging from the contemporary mainstream to hymns, Victorian ballads, country, rock and reggae. Does it work? Yes, for the most part: negatively, in the sense that if you don’t like one song you know there’ll be a completely different one along in a minute; but also positively, because Bolcom’s structure, with some well placed interludes, ensures that the work as a whole reflects Blake’s all-embracing and uncomfortable vision.


The recording, slightly variable in perspective but exceptionally clear, was made after a performance at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where Bolcom has taught for three decades. The large team of soloists is uneven, but soprano Christine Brewer shines in her few numbers, Nmon Ford displays a strong, well-focused baritone, and it’s good to hear soprano Ilana Davidson sounding like a potential successor to her veteran colleague Joan Morris. As for the contribution of the University choirs and orchestra, no praise could be too high. Their confident, committed performance is testimony to Leonard Slatkin’s long-time devotion to this remarkable work. Anthony Burton