September 4, 2019

  • 21st-Century Song Cycles Exploring Women's Themes


    Preach Sister Preach: New Vocal Works
    Katherine Jolly, soprano.  Emily Yap Chua, piano
    Christa Cole, violin; Rachel Mossburg, viola;
    Samantha Johnson-Helms, clarinet; Per Bjorkling, double bass/Joshua Harper
    Navona Records 6244
    Total Time:  41:14
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Soprano Katherine Jolly performs three new works for voice on this collection from Navona.  Two of the works are song cycles and they are separated by a single, longer work by Minneapolis native Katherine Bodor.

    Evan Williams explores the poetry of Emily Dickinson for Emily’s House.  The ten poems set here explore the many moods of the poet who lived in relative seclusion at her home in Amherst, MA.  Here, Williams explores how the poet’s words are part of her own interior life as she tries to grapple with themes of love and loss, joy and pain.  The main focus beyond the text is Jolly’s performance which allows her to demonstrate her range and nuance of mood.  The music is a blend of modern harmonic approaches with the vocal line mostly stating the text in its own musical line that may be picked up on and elaboratdd by the piano.  Chua’s support is also quite telling here with delicate playing that helps connect with this more interior dialogue.  This can lead to some rather intense musical interludes.

    Bodor’s work tackles our inability to rise and take action to address climate change.  Her text is taken from a New York Magazine article by David Wallace-Wells, often referred to as a climate alarmist.  His bleak predictions form the text of Absent an Adjustment which forces us to confront these issues head on.  The piece is set for a chamber ensemble and voice.  It allows for a slow build of sound that has a more acerbic lyricism with dissonant repeated harmonies that ebb and flow as the work opens.  A clarinet line grows out of the voice’s music as well which is a rather interesting effect against the dramatic accompaniment.  This is a more intense piece that heightens the insistence of the text with punctuations from the ensemble increasingly moving to more dissonant arrival points.  At one point, it is almost as if the voice has exhausted itself by trying to warn us of the path ahead.

    The final work is a collection of quotes by a diverse group of women, many of them notable contemporary comedians.  Evan Mack has taken these brief quotes and crafted a collection of musical statements around each hinting at the different speaker’s era, or some additional extramusical reference that could bring cohesion to the music.  Fourteen brief pieces are like pointillist musical enhancements to these often humorous, and yet often thought-provoking comments.  The music shifts well through various styles as well which explore blues and perhaps a little musical theater feel along the way.  This lends some of the music a more accessible quality.  That does not mean that there are not more unusual melodic constructs, but it does allow for some often fascinating music.

    Contemporary art song is something that deserves more attention and these three different approaches to the genre provide listeners with new ways that composers use this traditional chamber music today.  Really, the album is a demonstration disc for Jolly’s talent which is on great display here.  Balance between her and the piano is superb giving us a realistic sound picture to also reflect on the texts and their musical accompaniments in this interesting new release.