Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Ned Rorem Songs: On an echoing road

Early in the Morning (1954); Are you the new person drawn towards me?; Rain in Spring (1949); For Susan (1953); Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (1947); Jeanie with the light brown hair (1982); To a young girl (1951); Catullus: On the burial of his brother (1947); Requiescat; I will always love you; That shadow, my likeness (1963); On an echoing road 1997); I strolled across an open field; Alleluia (1946); Little Elegy (1949); Sometimes with one I love; Hymn for Evening (1997); Orchids (1959); On a singing girl (1946); Now sleeps the crimson petal (1963); What if some little pain; Look down, fair moon (1957); The Rainbow; Their lonely betters (1992); Do not love too long (1963); Comment on War; The Serpent (1959); Full of life now (1989)

The Prince Consort

Anna Leese - soprano
Jennifer Johnston - mezzo-soprano
Andrew Staples - tenor
Tim Mead - countertenor
Jacques Imbrailo - baritone

Alisdair Hogarth - artistic director/piano


Ned Rorem’s composing career has now covered more than 60 years, from immediately following the end of the 2nd World War to the present; as recently as 2006 he unveiled a new opera – Our Town, based on the play by Thornton Wilder. On top of this he’s a well known writer and he’s often asked to comment on his time living in France in the 1950s – when he knew just about everybody in the arts.

But it’s the composer that we’re interested in here. In his long career, when so many others have gone their way writing huge orchestral works, big chamber pieces, showing an allegiance to 12 note rows, the doctrine of the Darmstadt School, the teachings of Boulez, Rorem has stuck firmly to his guns, refusing to be swayed from his chosen path of righteous tonality, and tuneful excellence.

To this end he has remained faithful to the concept of song, whether delicate vignettes for solo voice and piano, or longer cycles. From here he has helped the genre to grow by creating songs for groups of voices accompanied by instrumental groups in almost any permutations you care to think of – Some Trees (1968) is scored for three voices and piano, whereas The Santa Fe Songs (1980) are for baritone accompanied by a piano quartet.

As Rorem has achieved his 80th year it is good to see that many record companies have taken notice of his work – Naxos is to be particularly praised for its series of his orchestral works – especially of his songs; of which there is claimed to be over 600! The well chosen 29 songs of his over 600 come from the whole of his working life.

The Prince Consort is a flexible group of which can offer vocal recitals of music with different voices or works for a consort of voices, as fine a vocal ensemble as I have heard in some time. On this CD we have both solo and ensemble pieces and the choice of material has been well made, as has the decision as to which voice to use – for instance, I have only ever heard Rorem's Alleluia sung by a joyous, soprano. Here we have an agile tenor, which gives the song of joy a more serious resonance.

Rorem’s style hasn’t changed over the years – matured, certainly, but essentially it’s still the same voice we hear in Hymn for Evening (1997) as we marvelled at in Early in the Morning (1954) – there is no jarring of stylistic change at any time.

These are superb performances which bring the music to life, and present it in the most perfect way possible. Rorem has written a piece for the Prince Consort which it will premiere at the Wigmore Hall on 14 March. Rorem's songs are priceless little diamonds in the worldwide pool of music.

Bob Briggs