October 23, 2019
Daytime and Night Songs
Sarah Mesko, mezzo-soprano.
Brent Funderburk, piano.
Michael Laderman, flute. Brian Sanders, cello.
Stephen Benson, guitar.
Navona Records 6256
Total Time: 35:26
This past summer, Navona released a collection of art songs by Mira J. Spektor, who is one of the founders of the Aviva Players. The collection explored her deft settings of a variety of texts centered around specific seasonal themes. There are two brief song cycles and seven additional songs in this new collection. Here texts are drawn from the work of Phyllis McGinley, Ruth Whitman, Diance Ackerman, and William Dickey as well as some early Renaissance French texts, a lyric by Broadway writer Yip Harburg, and her own granddaughter, Lily Nussbaum. Spektor has written several film scores and one of the pieces here, “Voice in the Wind” is from her music for the film Double Edge (1992). Mezzo-soprano lends her voice to the interpretations of the collection here.
The album begins with a gorgeous setting of McGinley’s “Sunday Psalm”. The earlier release featured this piece as well. The song opens with a more religious sensibility then moves off into a more modern Broadway recitative for contrast. The gentle style here continues into “Quiet”. The harmony moves just a bit beyond a traditional style. There are a few more text-inspired effects here in this stream-of-conscious type text from the composer’s granddaughter. Flute and cello add some additional color for the four poems by Ruth Whitman. It is a rather interesting approach to use these as sole accompanying instruments that then provide a more intricate sound. The accompanimental aspects of the two solo lines help set the harmonic backdrop over a fluid vocal line that floats across the music. The flute weaves musically between the vocal line and its own commentary. The result is a very stunning little cycle. The songs that follow continue to demonstrate Spektor’s facility with vocal writing and turn of phrase. Often moving and emotional pieces, the songs here are sequenced to create a beautiful survey of Spektor’s work. Melodic lines are beautifully shaped here by Mesko as well whose sound is perfect for the pieces chosen in this little recital. The music again does move through traditional tonality with some modern touches that aid its expressiveness. One can also hear some of the musical theater experience shining through in these works which certainly aids in their dramatic communication. Texts in this collection seem slightly more engaging than on the first collection of songs.
As with the earlier release, texts (and translations when appropriate) for each of the songs are included. It bears repeating from our earlier observation that Spektor’s music has its foot in art song and popular song and that will make this second release a wonderful discovery for those who appreciate contemporary vocal writing if the first was overlooked. The performances here are really more than most composers could hope for with beautiful sound and imaging that enhances the performers very well. Funderburk proves to be a perfect accompanist here matching the interpretive approach well. It is unfortunate that both collections could not be on a single disc as they would have easily fit. That said, it is worth picking up both to enjoy this wonderful engaging music.