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American Songs

Patrice Michaels – soprano

Elizabeth Buccheri - piano

Cedille - CDR 90000 091
[73 mins –2004/05]

LEE HOIBY: An Immorality; What If; The Message*; The Shepherd; In the Wand of the Wind
LAURIE ALTMAN: O del mio dolce ardor – A Re-imagining
LESLIE ADAMS: Branch By Branch; Homesick Blues; The Wider View
LITA GRIER: Who Has Seen the Wind *
RICHARD PEARSON THOMAS: Amarilli, mia bella* with Matthew Duvall, percussion
ROBERT CARL: Beginning My Studies*
JOHN MUSTO: Dove Sta Amore*
ERIC EWAZEN: Three Lyrics of Edna St. Vincent Millay*
DAN TUCKER : Mots D'heures: Gousses, Rames* (4 Songs In Fraudulent French)
JOHN HARMON: Light Feet*

* Denotes world premiere recordings

This generous sampling of contemporary American songs (neatly, they span the half century from 1952 to 2002) will probably lead the
UK listener into unfamiliar territory, but it is territory well worth exploring.


John Musto is the best known composer in the list; represented by his cycle of entitled Dove sta amore. The five songs are beautifully crafted, but the words are as blood chilling as they are thought provoking. I can't help wondering what Alfred Hitchcock might have done with The Hangman at Home: “If the little ones say, Daddy, play horse here's a rope …. does he answer like a joke: I seen enough rope for today?” or the even more terrifying How many little children sleep: “Soon they must weep, soon they shall kill.”


These are balanced by Dan Tucker's songs in fraudulent French, parodying well known nursery rhymes under the guise of French patois. They defy description – you must hear them – and read the erudite notes on the dialect.


The recital starts off in more conventional mood, with Lee Hoiby's polished settings of poems by such familiar authors as John Donne, William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Ezra Pound. These are the earliest pieces in the anthology, written in the same year as some of the other composers were born, but they are well polished and really set the standard.


Every item is worthy of attention, but the ones that stand out are Richard Pearson Thomas' raga inflected Amarilli, mia bella , accompanied by mallet-struck piano strings and Eric Ewazen's (who seems to specialise in writing for the tuba and other brass instruments) sublimely beautiful settings of poems by the controversial Edna St Vincent Millay.


Patrice Michaels possesses a lovely clear soprano and both she and her pianist Elizabeth Buccheri clearly love this repertoire, treating it with all the respect and careful attention it deserves.


They bring their recital to a most satisfactory conclusion with Robert Bowker's upbeat and rather zany Bingo followed John Harmon's Light Feet which is a soothing vocalise.


I found it all exceptionally rewarding, not only for the quality and variety of the music but also for the intriguing choice of texts. The accompanying booklet is a model of efficient presentation to Cedille's high standard. A high proportion of these works are receiving well merited world premiere recordings – more, please !


Serena Fenwick