Bold Beauty: Songs of Juliana Hall
Molly Fillmore, soprano.
Elvia Puccinelli, piano.
Blue Griffin Recording 559
Total Time: 61:22
Molly Fillmore debuted in the Met Opera’s latest Ring cycle and continued on to engagements throughout the US, at the Spoleto Festival, and with the Cologne Opera as well. Her recital here focuses on four song cycles by prolific composer Juliana Hall. Hall studied with Leon Kirchner and Frederick Rzewski, but it is her las teacher, Dominick Argento, who seems to cast a shadow over the style of vocal writing and harmonic exploration that appears in the three earlier pieces from this collection.
The opening Letters from Edna (1993) is a beautiful setting of eight letters the poet wrote to family, friends and others and here they have a theatrical quality. The carefully chosen letters provide a window into the artist’s emotional connections and thoughts. Musically, Hall uses often rich, touching harmonic language creating a Neo-Romantic atmosphere against the lyrical vocal writing. There are some more chromatic dissonant passages to address some of the more intense texts. With some 60 art song cycles to her credit, this release gives listeners a chance to hear her first foray into the genre in Syllables of Velvet, Syllables of Plush (1989). Letters by Emily Dickinson are the focus of this set of seven songs and provide a window into Hall’s musical language near the beginning of her career. In Theme in Yellow (1990) is another of these earlier cycles and here Hall pulls together a collection of six poems by Amy Lowell, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Carl Sandburg. These are arranged around the Autumn season with reflections on “Ripe Corn” and “Harvest Gold”. It is set for mezzo-soprano which would equally lend the sound of the music a warmer quality. The final work on the album is the more recent Cameos (2018) commissioned by Fillmore. She also provided the texts for this cycle which explores the work of six female painters whose work seems to also lie at the heart of Hall’s inspiration. The piece makes for a fine conclusion to this collection, and one suspects a concert performance would include projected images of the works for this piece—though there is no art in the accompanying booklet.
BGR’s recording perfectly captured a natural sound that images the singer well in the sound picture. The booklet includes fine notes and complete texts. Fillmore has a gorgeous, clear voice and a good dramatic quality that makes these songs connect well with the listener. Elvia Puccinelli proves to be an excellent accompanist here adding additional dramatic flair, but also finding the subtleties in the music where needed. This makes for a really engrossing collection of music for those interested in the development of the art song.