Fanfare Review: So Many Journeys

By Colin Clarke | Fanfare

Born in 1956, Joseph Summer studied with Karel Husa at Eastern Music Festival and at the Oberlin Conservatory. His music is approachable and yet retains a sense of mystique. This disc, entitled “So Many Journeys: The Shakespeare Concerts,” is timed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s sonnets.Summer’s recently completed opera, Hamlet, includes a setting of the soliloquy “There is a willow grows aslant a brook,” sung in the opera as an entr’acte by the Player Queen and not delivered, as in the play, by Gertrude. Kellie Van Horn is a superb singer. Summer calls upon her lowest registers during the course of his setting, and Van Horn delivers. The whole is shot through with a dark sense of mystery. Miroslav Sekera is the superb accompanist.

The brief Sonnet CXXXII (“Thine eyes I love”), whose text dwells on pity and blackness, meanders, as if reflecting the lost protagonist. Again, Sekera impresses in his grasp of the mood of the piece and his keen ear. Christian Van Horn is the fine singer here, and he also impresses in the Sonnet LX, “Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore.”

The text of The Quality of Mercy is taken from The Merchant of Venice and Summer’s setting intends to capture Portia’s coldness and righteousness. The solo piano The Dumb Show is a ballet for five or six dancers that dates from 2004. There is a slighter (less than two minutes) version of this that fits into Hamlet and underscores dialogue between Ophelia and Hamlet. The version we hear here is over 17 minutes long. Sekera plays the delicate music with tenderness while clearly resonating with the more fantastical moments. The piano recording itself is on the thin side (the sound engineer is Ondrej Urban). Sekera is also technically equipped for the heavier, more demanding passages.

Good to have a duet for So Many Journeys. Again, Summer’s music seems shot through with regret. He is lucky indeed to have such convincing interpreters as the Van Horns. Texturally, contrast is effected by setting “The lady doth protest too much” for soprano and cello alone. It works well. The cello implies a soft swing coupled with stoppings that imply a more folksy inspiration.

Finally, the Cello Sonata, a set of variations on a baritone aria from Summer’s opera Courting Disaster that models itself structurally on the Beethoven op. 131 Quartet. Summer also incorporates a caccia variation. A habanera adds rhythmic variety. Petr Nouzovský is a fine cellist who plays most expressively.

This disc complements the 2005 Albany disc of Summer Shakespeare Concerts (Albany 750).