Thomson’s Complete Songs performed by Sarah Pelletier, Lynne McMurtry, William Hite, Aaron Engebreth, Alison d’Amato, Linda Osborn and John McDonald

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COMPOSERS: Thomson
LABELS: New World
ALBUM TITLE: Thomson
WORKS: Complete songs
PERFORMER: Sarah Pelletier (soprano), Lynne McMurtry (contralto), William Hite (tenor), Aaron Engebreth (baritone); Alison d’Amato, Linda Osborn (piano), John McDonald (percussion)
CATALOGUE NO: 80775-2

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This set is as important to the history of American art song as the Barber recordings of Cheryl Studer and Thomas Hampson two decades ago. From two early, already distinctive settings written at Harvard to The Cat, a droll duet from 1980, here is the full gamut of the songs written by Virgil Thomson over six decades. There are 77 of them, and around 20 have never been recorded before. Together, they constitute a formidable body of achievement, kaleidoscopic in its shifting styles and emotions. From the pomped-up, funerary rhetoric of Bossuet’s Oraison funèbre to the blithe, delightful La valse grégorienne, Thomson is acutely sensitive to syllabic patterns and cadences, inviting them to shape the warp and weft of melody and rhythm.

All four singers major in clarity of diction and fluidity of phrasing. Tenor William Hite’s effulgent account of the mini-cycle Mostly about Love is one of many highlights, as is baritone Aaron Engebreth’s sonorous traversal of the Five Songs from William Blake. Contralto Lynne McMurtry contributes, among much else, an ardent Praises and Prayers, and while soprano Sarah Pelletier’s vibrato can be bothersome, she too sings with a vibrant interpretive intelligence. Pianists Alison d’Amato and Linda Osborn provide impeccably prepared and executed support in Thomson’s frequently tricksy accompaniments, and respond acutely to his mix of down-home, Kansas City folksiness and Parisian sophistication.

Terry Blain

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