Carole Farley – Songs of the Americas

Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, Op.41*
On the Beach at Night, Op.78**
My Papa’s Waltz*
Youth, Day, Old Age and Night*
O You Whom I Often and Silently Come
As Adam Early in the Morning*
What if Some Little Pain*
Early in the Morning
I strolled Across and Open Field
Visits to St Elizabeth’s*
I Will Breathe a Mountain: Never More Will the Wind; O To Be a Dragon*; The Bustle in a House*; The Crazy Woman*; Night Practice*
Costa del Nowhere*
When We Built the Church*
The Digital Wonder Watch (An Advertisement)**
Three Songs for Voice and Guitar: Ay, que el alma; Severa Villafane; Pueblito, mi pueblo
Siempre en mi corazón
Como presiento
Al fin
La comparsa
En una noche asi
Cancion del amor triste

*UK Premiere **European Premiere

Carole Farley (soprano)

William Bolcom (piano)
John Constable (piano)
Lowell Liebermann (piano)
Fabio Zanon (guitar)

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 1 June, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This recital was an intriguing notion, in that three composers were to have accompanied Carole Farley in their respective songs. In the event, sadly, Ned Rorem was announced as poorly and unable to travel from the USA. His portion of the programme was taken over by John Constable who was already booked to play the Lecuona selection.

The evening began somewhat inauspiciously with two rather protracted settings of Walt Whitman by Lowell Liebermann. Apparently feted for his compositions, I’m afraid his anodyne – and often strikingly derivative – music makes very little impression on this listener.

Unwittingly, part of the title of the first song (Endlessly Rocking) was all too apposite since, at around 12 minutes’ duration, it more than outstayed its welcome; the constantly repeated ‘rocking’ figure in the accompaniment proving to be a particular irritant.There was quite an atmospheric start to “On the Beach at Night” and, later on, some effective piano figuration, but there was little to suggest a considered musical response to this evocative poetry. The composer’s playing, strange to report, seemed quite perfunctory and, in any case, the accompaniments did not provide especial illumination for the words.

Ned Rorem’s songs, by contrast, have the virtue, at least, of brevity. In contrast to Liebermann, Rorem prefers a lighter, generally wittier approach, though sometimes tinged with a touching nostalgia. Four of these songs are particularly short, yet each made an impression, and the comparatively extended songs were notable for their touches of wistfulness and irony. The final song in this selection – “Visits to St Elizabeth’s” – with its constant refrain of “that lies in the house of Bedlam” is a setting of a most effective poem by Elizabeth Bishop, and its unfolding story is delightfully set by Rorem with an acute response to the text and some dextrous turns of phrase.

Whilst all will want to send the composer good wishes for a speedy recovery, he could rest easy since John Constable was – predictably – a fine exponent.

The highlight of this programme – and the songs which made the strongest impression – was the selection from William Bolcom’s “I Will Breathe a Mountain” plus four other songs, accompanied with considerable panache by the composer.

Bolcom’s eclectic approach is, in these songs at least, imbued with the spirit of Charles Ives, with some explosive piano outbursts, extremes of vocal writing – some of it declamatory and some spoken passages – and, in at least one instance, “The Crazy Woman”, a dash of Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire”. Allied to these, however, is a ‘homespun’ quality, as in “The Bustle in a House”, an Emily Dickinson setting. In the Blake poem “Mary”, I detected a hint of Britten’s Cabaret Songs along with some Mahlerian irony to conclude. This is a long piece, but, unlike Liebermann’s, one did not feel it was unnecessarily drawn out.There was a feeling of bitterness in “When We Built the Church”, and “The Digital Wonder Watch (An Advertisement)” had a laconic humour, not least via its ‘tick-tock’ accompaniment.

Bolcom was a most impressive accompanist – much of the piano writing is pretty taxing – but the composer was unfazed and played with aplomb.

Gentler, more reflective fare was to be heard in Guastavino’s “Three Songs for Voice and Guitar”, which Fabio Zanon accompanied with sensitivity, and the somewhat more ‘popular’ inflections of Lecuona’s songs – some with decided cocktail-bar overtones – drew the recital to a close, save for a couple of encores.

Carole Farley has a devoted following, but it has to be admitted that her ample voice is something of an acquired taste. With considerable experience on the operatic stage, one sometimes felt, in this recital, that a less forceful, more intimate, approach would have been more appropriate.

One admired the fact that she sang the whole programme from memory, though there were several divergences from the texts printed in the programme, but her occasionally forced and cloudy tone made for indistinct words, both in English and Spanish. In the latter, a sharper articulation of the text was really needed.

However, her sense of identification and communication was admirable, as is her decision to include these songs in her extensive repertoire.

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