WORKS: A Lucky Child from At the Statue of Venus; Some Times of Day; Facing Forward/Looking Back; Here and Gone; To Say Before Going to Sleep; Songs and Sonnets to Ophelia; Final Monologue from Master Class
PERFORMER: Isabel Bayrakdarian (soprano), Frederica von Stade, Zheng Cao, Joyce DiDonato, Susan Graham (mezzo-soprano), Paul Groves (tenor), Keith Phares (baritone), Dawn Harms (violin), Carla Maria Rodrigues (viola), Emil Miland (cello), Jake Heggie (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2198
As the starry cast list above clearly suggests, the American Jake Heggie is something of a singers’ composer.
He sets thoughtfully chosen texts with maximum clarity, in lines which unfold expressively and even thrillingly above sympathetic accompaniments. He’s also essentially an operatic composer.
Here he creates two miniature scenas on monologues by Terrence McNally, dramatises the conflict of mothers and daughters in the duet cycle Facing Forward/Looking Back, enlists the poems of Edna St Vincent Millay for a portrait of Ophelia, and (less convincingly) devises a narrative linking settings of Housman and Vachel Lindsay for Here and Gone, for tenor, baritone and piano quartet.
If there’s anything missing, it’s that touch of the unexpected with which Britten or Poulenc or Bernstein can transcend clichés of tonality and idiom and make a song unforgettable. But it’s hard to carp about such an enjoyable disc, on which the composer’s own fluent piano playing, an expert string group and a good if sometimes over-glossy recording provide support for some world-class singers.
Relative newcomers such as Isabel Bayrakdarian and Zheng Cao are by no means outclassed by the likes of Susan Graham and the ageless Frederica von Stade who are clearly revelling in the opportunities that Heggie has offered them here. Anthony Burton