William Bolcom Songs

0 of 5 stars

You Cannot Have Me Now – or, The Military Orgy (from “Greatshot”)
Night, Make My Day; My Father the Gangster (from “Casino Paradise”)
The Digital Wonder Watch (An Advertisement)
The Last Days of Mankind
Songs to Dance
I Will Breathe a Mountain
Tillinghast Duo
Three Songs (from “The Wind in the Willows”)
When We Built the Church (from “Dynamite Tonite”)

Carole Farley (soprano) & William Bolcom (piano)

Recorded between 28-31 December 2004 in Potton Hall, Suffolk, England

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: July 2005
CD No: NAXOS 8.559249
Duration: 64 minutes

Carole Farley is a ‘big’ performer, bringing extensive operatic experience to bear on her approach to art songs, whether it be those of Ernesto Lecuona, Ned Rorem or William Bolcom (she has devoted entire discs to all three). With the Lecuona and the Rorem, this proves to be a liability; not so here, where Farley’s exaggerated postures and a certain hysterical edge to the voice perfectly complement Bolcom’s eclecticism and baroque sensuality.

The songs, some recorded for the first time, that make up this recital were chosen by Farley herself from four decades of Bolcom’s writing. Those taken from Broadway musical and cabaret parodies (like the fabulous opening track, “You Cannot Have Me Now” or, then, “My Father the Gangster”) exhibit exuberant sprechtstimme and rueful irony; others are hugely powerful in their dramatic intensity, like “The Last Days of Mankind”, or simply moving, such as the tortured folk-like setting of William Blake’s “Mary”.

Then there’s the Webern-like brevity of the pieces in “Songs to Dance”, a cycle written for dancer Dan Wagoner, Bolcom and his singer wife Joan Morris to perform as a trio; offsetting this is the substantial “I Will Breath a Mountain” cycle, written at the request of Marilyn Horne. Farley embraces the varied tone of the songs in this cycle with her own astonishing variety, running the gamut from the deliberately silly melismas of Alice Fulton’s “How To Swing Those Obbligatos Around” to the emotional complexity of Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish” with, well, not ease, but a kind of bumpy eloquence. Ditto for the rest of the programme.

Bolcom himself proves that composers sometimes are their own best interpreters; although I’ve not heard anybody else accompany these songs, I can’t imagine Bolcom’s responsiveness both to the texts and to Farely’s every twist and turn being as easily accomplished by anyone else. The rapport is magical.

This is a winning recital of music where craftsmanship and mastery of an enormous range of styles tend to conceal a personality that could perhaps be located in a taste for particular texts and often literal, sometimes ecstatic word-painting against which is counterpointed a far less obvious piano part. Farley’s performances feed off the resulting tension. The effect is more than convincing. The booklet notes include comments by the composer on every work, complete texts, and biographies; the sound is not ideal, though, despite being recorded in the excellent Potton Hall.

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