July/August 2015 American Record Guide

Excerpts of  Review by Robert Moore

“(Summer’s) music is imaginative, engaging, easily accessible, and employs both a depth and wide range of expressive compositional skill. . . Imaginative tonal language well worth hearing… Paul Cook called Summer’s music smart, engaging, and “nothing short of spectacular” (S/O 2009). . . five handsomely packaged programs presenting a mixture of Summer’s works and works by a great range of past composers.

“(In Shakespeare’s Memory) With her rich tonal color Kellie Van Horn gives a marvelous performance of ‘Leda and the Swan’. . . The Kalima Quartet plays beautifully. . . Best of all (in Shakespeare’s Memory) is Maria Ferrante’s superb singing of ‘If by Your Art’ from The Tempest.

“(In The Fair Ophelia) Kathryn Guthrie and Miroslav Sekera give an outstanding portrayal of Ophelia becoming unhinged in ‘He Took Me by the Wrist’; ‘They Bore Him Barefaced on the Bier’; and ‘To My Sick Soul’  Their performances are the high points of this program. The program ends with John McGinn’s driving performanceof John Cage’s ‘Ophelia’, a remarkably moving threnody on her death.

“Goddesses,  the third program, presents six settings of texts about strong, idealized, or tragic women. Of these five volumes I recommend this as a good place to start for two reasons: (1) all six works are by Summer, and show him at his most varied and dramatic; and (2) it employs the largest array of instruments and the best singers of the series, who turn in amazing virtuoso performances. The program begins with a sensational 22-minute setting of ‘Honor, Riches, Marriage-Blessing’ from The Tempest. As Iris, Jessica Lennick’s stratospheric singing is stunning; she tosses off gleaming high E-flats and Fs. Kellie Van Horn as Ceres offers an effective low voice balance to Iris. Sekera’s virtuosic pianism accompanies the thunderous dramatic entrance of Juno (sung by Andrea Chenoweth). The three women join at the end to sing a jubilant wedding blessing. Volume 3 is worth getting just to hear this, but everything else is unfailingly impressive. A tumultuous setting of the sonnet ‘In the Old Age Black Was Not Counted Fair’ for vocal quartet, solo horn, and strings is followed by a rocking siciliano style setting of the sonnet ‘Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?’ for mezzo, solo flute, and strings. Mezzo Gigi Mitchell-Velasco is brilliant in Juliet’s ‘Gallop Apace you Fiery-Footed Steeds’ with its unusual scoring of horn and harpsichord. ‘If Music Be The Food of Love’ for vocal quartet is striking…

“Orpheus with His Lute Made Trees . . .  opens with an oddly playful work by Summer, ‘You May Think of Art’ from The Tenor’s Suite, with text presumably by the composer where a tenor remarks sardonically about performing German opera. Neal Ferreira sings with mock outrage, while Sang Young Kim accompanies admirably in the fiendish piano writing. In stark contrast, Kathryn Guthrie and John McGinn next offer a glowing performance of ‘Orpheus with His Lute’ by Vaughan Williams. Almost without pause Joseph Spacek and Guthrie perform another setting of the same text coupled with the sonnet ‘Alack, What Poverty my Muse Brings Forth’ that constitutes the first movement of Summer’s two-movement Sonata for Violin and Voice. With a style of writing for violin reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat, it’s a far cry from the more reverential approach of VW. The second movement, a setting of the sonnet ‘How Oft, When Thou, My Music, Music Play’st’, suggests a Bach violin partita. . .  The program (includes) a particularly fine alternate setting of ‘Leda and the Swan’ by Summer, sung by Guthrie. . . Guthrie’s singing is radiant. Two works for violin and piano complete the program: Mythes by Szymanowski and Four Pieces from Much Ado About Nothing by Korngold. Spacek is the star of the show here; his nimble and expressive playing fills nearly 50 of the 63 minutes of the program. Sekera proves to be an admirable collaborator through the entire project.

“Full Fathom Five begins with Summer’s mournful setting of ‘Full Fathom Five’ and ‘Come Unto These Yellow Sands’. Emily Jaworski captures the mystery of “a sea change into something rich and strange”. . .  It is illuminating to hear the same text set by such a variety of composers: Thomas Linley, Michael Tippett, Charles Ives, and Igor Stravinsky. . .  The program ends with a strong performance by Sekera of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata 17 (Tempest).

“Almost everything in these five volumes was recorded in Mechanics Hall (Worcester, MA), acoustically one of the finest halls anywhere. The open, spacious sound is wonderful. . .

“(On all five discs)The instrumentalists are especially good. The pianists are impressive in performing music with rhythm and structure that are often complex. Miroslav Sereka warrants special praise.  . . Tenor Luke Grooms and baritone Paul Soper deserve recognition.”

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