PERFORMER: Susan Graham (mezzo-soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano); Ensemble Oriol
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-80222-2
Ned Rorem is one of the most fluent and prolific composers in the pantheon of American songwriters who have dominated English-language verse setting in the last 50 years. The facility with which he tunes into the shift of language and of tones of voice from Elizabethan England to Gertrude Stein, from Tennyson to Roethke, finds its match here in the warm, easeful communication of Susan Graham and Malcolm Martineau. The Berlin-based Ensemble Oriol plays its part in evoking the wide spaces and heat-hazes of Rorem’s Santa Fe Songs.
There are times when you long for Rorem to have a tougher tussle with the poets he sets: his languid fluency somehow bypasses much of the mystery behind the apparent simplicity of, for instance, Robert Frost or Yeats. But the performances bring to bear every nuance that’s possible, be it in the breathless, ecstatic archaisms of Rorem’s ‘Ronsard’, or in the sense of a song without beginning or ending which is Paul Goodman’s ‘Clouds’.
Among this generous and sensitively paced programme of 32 songs, I particularly enjoyed Rorem’s oblique, Brittenesque arrangement of Stephen Foster’s ‘I dream of Jeannie with the light brown hair’, and Graham’s exquisitely sung performance of the Christina Rossetti setting ‘Ferry me across the water’. Hilary Finch