6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Reprint from The Journal of Singing, Jan/Feb 2004,
By A Customer
This review is from: Dreaming: The Songs of Lori Laitman (Audio CD)The title of this disk and the image of a sleeping child on the cover might lead one to assume that this is one more "Music to Relax By" recording to add to countless others that have already been made and that threaten to overwhelm the planet. This is actually a stunning collection of widely varied songs by one of the finest art song composers on the scene today. Lori Laitman deservedly stands shoulder to shoulder with Ned Rorem for her uncommon sensitivity to text, her loving attention to the human voice and its capabilities, and her extraordinary palette of musical colors and gestures. One intriguing entry in her resume is a masters degree in flute performance (from Yale School of Music), and it would be interesting to inquire how she believes her extensive background as an instrumentalist has contributed to her growing mastery of vocal composition.
This collection is superbly executed in every respect, not only in the smallest musical details, but also in matters of presentation and organization. The disk is about as generous as current technology allows, and features a thoroughly riveting range of song cycles presented with thoughtful introductions from the composer in the liner notes. Her comments are succinct yet heartfelt and seem designed not so much for scholars as for ordinary art song listeners. The singers are able champions of Laitman's music, boasting strong and attractive voices under impressive technical control, and performing these songs most expressively. Warren Jones is pianist for most of the songs and offers his usual brilliant work.
Aside from the singers and Mr. Jones, the collection also boasts the presence of one of the world's finest string bass players, Gary Karr, a past teacher of Laitman's husband. It was for his considerable talents that Laitman composed her shattering Holocaust 1944, seven songs based on a wide array of poems either stemming directly from that human tragedy or written in reflection of it. Laitman mentions her earlier holocaust work for soprano voice and alto saxophone, which she says has a lighter and more hopeful quality. This later work is more relentlessly bleak and heart-broken, its dark texts so movingly embodied by Karr's haunting double bass and William Sharp's eloquent baritone. Karr is confronted by technical hurdles of every kind as well as the task of helping to bring these searing words to life. The longest song of the cycle (and of the entire disk) is a setting of a powerful text called "Both Your Mothers" in which the poet, Jerzy Ficowski, speaks to a youngster of the birth mother that gave him up in secret so that he could have life with a new mother in a place far away from the Nazi horror. The double bass conveys in its lower register the savage edge of sorrow, but Laitman also takes it to the uppermost reaches of its range for the moment in the poem when Ficowski speaks of the courageous birth mother, "Who could now step into crowded death happily incomplete" in the hope that her baby would survive. The double bass is also quite striking in the following song, "What Luck," which is the brightest bit of optimism in the cycle, with the poet quietly rejoicing at having escaped almost certain death and able now to enjoy tender moments of affection. Most of the cycle, however, is unsparing in its despair, and never more so than in a poem called "Massacre of the Boys." Laitman writes that it is all but impossible to read these words without weeping, and one can hardly imagine them being set any more movingly than in the stark combination of baritone and string bass. Regrettably, these remarkable songs and their equally remarkable performances are sonically the most poorly recorded pieces on the disk; Mr. Sharp seems to have been recorded from a distance and his lovely timbre has a metallic edge not evident in other recordings. These technical concerns pale in importance, however, beside such remarkable words, music, and artistry.
The remaining works on this disk are scarcely less compelling. They underscore Laitman's remarkable regard for the poetic word and her ability to set the irregular and unpredictable texts of Thomas Lux as effectively as the more standard poetry of Dickinson and Teasdale. Four of Lux's delightful and off-beat poems make up Men With Small Heads and are winningly sung by Randall Scarlata with the composer herself at the piano; the rhapsodically absurd "Refrigerator 1957" is a special tour de force for all concerned. There are two sets of more serious and sedate songs featuring the poetry of Emily Dickinson, gorgeously sung by soprano Jennifer Check, who keeps her evidently large voice under impressive control. She admirably contends with Laitman's occasional tendency to send the singer on sudden and somewhat jarring melodic ascents. Sari Gruber offers impressive singing of her own in the cycle Sunflowers, which features some of the most complex music in this collection. The most accessible set is called The Years which Laitman composed in honor of her in-law's fiftieth wedding anniversary. She adapts a simpler and more unabashedly romantic approach for these somewhat sentimental texts, and mezzo-soprano Patricia Green responds to them with an honest expressiveness that is entirely persuasive.
The disk ends with its title track, but this is certainly no song of slumber! "Dreaming" is a hilarious recital encore with a text by the composer in which two singers exchange thoughts on the thing they most dream about receiving, "a great review." The rollicking energy of this music shows us yet another side of Lori Laitman's remarkable gifts as a composer, making the dreamed about great review rather prophetic and leaving us hungry for more from this exceptionally gifted genius. GREGORY BERG