WORKS: The Tender Land (chamber version arr. Murry Sidlin)
PERFORMER: Suzan Hanson, Milagro Vargas, Amy Hansen, Richard Zeller; Third Angle New Music Ensemble/Murry Sidlin
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7480-2
Commissioned by Rodgers and Hammerstein as an opera for TV, The Tender Land (1954) shares something with their first collaboration, Oklahoma! (1943): a Midwestern farm setting; a love-struck heroine called Laurie and a sinister hired hand; and a reliance on traditional American folk tunes and square dances. But The Tender Land is through-composed, a combination of recitative and set pieces, two of them familiar from Copland’s seductive settings of Old American Songs; and its music – accessible and richly melodic like the ballets Appalachian Spring and Billy the Kid – looks back to Britten as well as forward to Sondheim in its occasional, dramatic dissonances.
In many ways, though, it is the show’s pretensions to opera that let this recording down. Too many of the performers, all of them fine singers, enunciate with over-egged operatic affectation, and simply don’t sound like credible farm workers. The men are in general more convincing than the women, with Douglas Webster an outstanding Top, and Richard Zeller an imposing Grandpa.
This CD bills itself the ‘World Premiere Recording’ of the chamber version – Virgin recorded the original complete opera in 1990, but this is the first issue of an arrangement by Murry Sidlin for 13 musicians rather than a full orchestra. Yet for so small a band, the Third Angle New Music Ensemble produces a full, vibrant and dynamic sound, and is the chief glory of this intriguing rather than indispensable disc. Claire Wrathall