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Carole Farley with American Composers Wigmore Hall, June 3 2005

Carole Farley
, one-time famous as Lulu, brought all the critics of London and farther afield (e.g. John Steane, doyen of nightingale fanciers from Coventry) to hear her sing in two dresses with four accompanists.

There was a pre-concert discussion in which Lowell Liebermann and William Bolcom discussed American composers' predeliction for setting their native poets to music.

In the unusual recital which followed Liebermann did not persuade us that he had anything to add to Out of the Cradle & On the Beach, the same passages of Whitman's Leaves of Grass memorable set by Vaughan Williams in his Sea Symphony.

Ned Rorem didn't make it across the Atlantic, but John Constable deputised with his usual undemonstrative aplomb in Rorem songs, some of them tiny quirky epigrams, the sequence rather spoilt by the audience clapping after each one. No need to burden your memories with the names of two Latin American composers with whom Carole Farley (accompanied by guitar and piano) finished by descending to unconvincing cabaret mode.

It was William Bolcom who made staying to the end (after the long afternoon's Richard Tauber Prize finals) worth while. He is a splendidly eclectic composer, who finds just the right tone for each of the many poems by his compatriots he has set, and he is a brilliant keyboard partner for singers. This group had some amazing cameos, including Emily Dickinson's macabre Bustle in a House and Swenson's Night Practice. William Blake's Sweet Mary, who has to 'humble her beauty', made a telling conclusion to Bolcom's set (q.v. my welcome to Naxos's release of Bolcom's magnus opus, Songs of Innocence and of Experience).

Carole Farley's voice has reached the stage of fallibility and there were some odd sounds especially in the first half but, as so often, things perked up after the interval (what do they give them to drink and relax backstage at Wigmore Hall?) when she reappeared, in a shimmering colourful dress which suited her extrovert temperament better, for the Bolcom selection.

Casino Paradise: My Father the Gangster • Casino Paradise: Night Make My Day • Dynamite Tonite: When We Built the Church • Greatshot: You Cannot Have Me Now - or, The Military Orgy • I Will Breathe a Mountain • Mary • Songs to Dance • The Digital Wonder Watch (An Advertisment) • The Last Days of Mankind • The Wind in the Willows: Three Songs • Tillinghast Duo
William Bolcom, piano / Carole Farley, soprano

Naxos American Classics 8.559216-2


ROREM: Songs
The Waking ° Root Cellar ° My Papa's Waltz ° I strolled across an open field ° Memory ° Orchids ° The Serpent ° Night Crow ° Snake ° Little Elegy ° The Nightingale ° Nantucket ° Lullaby of the woman of the Mountain ° Love in a life ° What if some little pain ° Visit to St Elizabeth's ° Stopping by Woods on a Snowy evening ° Spring ° See how they love me ° Now sleeps the crimson petal ° I am Rose ° Ask me no more ° Far-Far-Away ° Early in the Morning ° Alleluia ° Such beauty as hurts to behold ° Sally's Smile °Youth, day, Old Age and Night ° O you whom I often and silently come ° Full of life now ° As Adam early in the morning ° Are you the new person?

Carole Farley (soprano)/ Ned Rorem (piano)
Recorded Nantucket, June 2000

Naxos American Classics 8.559084-2

The Naxos CD of Farley with the composer in William Bolcom's songs is compelling, though maybe not to everyone's taste. Recorded in England in the last days of 2004, her spontaneity is preserved on disc, and she even strays occasionally from the exact text in some of the 34 songs chosen. The styles are eclectic, from cabaret songs which are better heard in the right milieu, to thoughtful art songs which are better listened to at home with the words on your lap. There are Songs to Dance which are economical and pseudo-naive, poems after Kenneth Grahame's Wind on the Willows; best those mentioned above and the compassionate description of a venerable fish, brought out of water with 'five old pieces of fish-line hanging from his lip', which the poet Elizabeth Bishop returned to the deep.

The Rorem disc pleased me even more. "I've never set a bad poem", says Ned Rorem (b.1923), whose has enjoyed recently belated regognition and wider appreciation. Definitely prima le parole, and this eclectic collection of settings of poems in English (and American) has you hooked, with the texts before you, many of them far more interesting than the sometimes effete verses set by the great Lieder composers and French romanticists. His melodic lines are singable and Carole Farley is a good exponent. Rorem's style incorporates influences of composers from Ravel to Virgil Thomson, but he is his own man and you quickly get a sense of his reticent individuality. The 32 poems in this generous selection are, of course, excellent value coming from Naxos. You can sample them by listening on Amazon. There are other CDs of Rorem's songs, e g. Susan Graham's recital.


© Peter Grahame Woolf