Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Lenoriana: Music of Boyle, Altman, Hagen and Hennessy

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Lenoriana: Music of Boyle, Altman, Hagen and Hennessy

Article excerpt

Lenoriana: Music of Boyle, Altman, Hagen and Hennessy. Elem Eley, baritone; J.J. Penna, piano. (Affetto AF1501; 67:00)

Benjamin C. Boyle: Lenoriana: "Annabel Lee," "Lenore," "To," "The Conqueror Worm," "Intermezzo," "El Dorado," "Lenore," "A Dream within a Dream," "To Helen." Laurie Altman: Two Songs from Mountain Interval: "A Time to Talk," "The Sound of Trees." Daron Aric Hagen: Larkin Songs: "1a. Going," "1b. Coming," "2. Interlude #1 : Fiction and the Reading Public," "3a. Counting." "3b. 'None of the books have time'." "4a. 'Within the dream you said'." "4b. Talking In Bed." "5. Interlude #2: 'To write one song, you said'." "6a. 'Morning at last: there is now'." "6b. The White Palace." Martin Hennessy: Three Dickinson Songs: "My river runs to Thee," "Let down the bars, O Death!" "I taste a liquor never brewed."

This generous disk is yet another memorable collaboration between baritone Elem Eley and pianist J.J. Penna, faculty colleagues at Westminster Choir College of Rider University. Their 2008 disk Drifts and Shadows was rapturously reviewed in this column (Journal of Singing 66, no. 2 [November/December 2009]) and elsewhere. This collection does not quite attain the same excellence but comes pretty close. It presents four world premiere recordings of new vocal works, with several of the songs specifically penned for Eley and Penna. These two remarkable musicians are responsible for a great many world premieres, which is a testament to the high esteem with which they are regarded as well as their unflagging devotion to the cause of new music.

The finest of the four song sets is the one for which the CD is named. Composer Benjamin C. S. Boyle may not be a familiar name to many NATS members because most of his work has been with instrumental music, but there is no question that he has an exceptional gift for vocal writing as well. Lenoriana is a rather intricately constructed cycle of eight songs (plus a piano interlude) based on the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, composed over the course of four years. Poe's "Lenore" is the emotional anchor of the work, and Boyle makes the intriguing choice to split the poem in two halves to create the second and seventh songs of the cycle. This is a highly atmospheric work, very much in keeping with Poe's poetry and its recurrent themes of longing and loss, and Boyle's responsiveness to these potent texts is unfailingly effective. The cycle begins with "Annabel Lee," arguably one of the finest poems ever written, and Boyle flawlessly captures its haunting, timeless quality. And after the ferocious passion of some of the inner songs of the cycle, we are left in the sublime presence of Helen of Troy in perhaps the most exquisite song on the disk. Boyle's musical palette is largely neoromantic in its flavor, which suits both these texts and Eley and Penna's gifts very well indeed. The only complaint around this cycle is that the texts printed in the liner notes do not perfectly align with the texts that Eley actually sings. In some cases, we are talking about single words that are altered (such as "floats" for "glides" or "wretches" for "false friends"), while in other instances whole phrases are shuffled out of order or missing altogether. Liner notes include a very interesting essay by Boyle about this cycle; one wishes that it might have addressed the matter of these puzzling textual anomalies.

Lenoriana is a highly accessible cycle and beautifully written for the voice. It is a bit jarring to proceed from there to Two Songs from Mountain Interval by Laurie Altman with texts by Robert Frost, which are not nearly so hospitable. "A Time to Talk" is actually a disarmingly simple poem about interrupting one's work in the field to speak with a visiting friend, and if one first reads the text it is easy to imagine it being set to gentle music reminiscent of Copland's Appalachian Spring. Altman opts instead for a highly angular and urgent sounding setting that is rife with slashing dissonance. …

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