A special eight-page section focusing on recent recordings from the US and Canada



Four Songs About Naturea. In Thine Own Imageb. Songs with Windsc. Three Songs About Lovea. Three Songs About Timeb. Two Songs from the Portugueseb. Two Traditional Japanese Songsb. Unholy Sonnetsd. Wish for a Young Wifed

b Freda Herseth, acRebecca Karpoff sops dJoseph Evans ten abdCary Lewis pf cAtlanta Winds Navona (NV6578 • 60’)

While not an ardent fan of the art song medium, I have to say that this new Navona

album of songs, song-sets and cycles by Samuel Adler (b1928) is a delight. Adler is a composer familiar enough to collectors, his music on dozens of currently available releases, particularly from the Milken Archive but also on Albany, Linn, Toccata Classics and many others. A pupil of Copland, Hindemith and Piston, Adler – himself a teacher for over six decades – is a composer with plenty to say and the technique to say it succinctly. Most of the 31 songs here come from early in Adler’s career, just after his military service (1950-52), although the Four Songs About Nature, setting poems by James Stephens, date from just beforehand. In his booklet notes, Adler refers to these Coplandesque songs (with a dash of Hindemith in the accompaniment) as his ‘opus one’. They make a nice, compact set, sung sympathetically by Rebecca Karpoff (a touch shrill in one or two places), as are Songs About Love (1953), settings of Edmund Waller, Philip Sidney and Oliver Goldsmith.

Adler’s natural talent for word-setting is manifest throughout, whether in the stand-alone In Thine Own Image (1955, to a poem by Fania Kruger) or Songs About Time (1954 – called Songs About the Times of Man on the composer’s website), both sung nicely by Freda Herseth, as are the pairs of Portuguese and Japanese songs. The five rather Brittenish Unholy Sonnets (1985) are neither sonnets nor particularly unholy but are delivered strongly by Joseph Evans, who also sings Wish for a Young Wife

(1966, four songs to words by Theodore Roethke), which contains the one – minor – miscalculation: its third song, ‘Her Wrath’, is too brief.

All bar the last set are accompanied sensitively and with poise by Cary Lewis. In Songs with Winds (1966), however, Adler deploys a wind quintet. Given that Adler was also experimenting with a more expressionist harmonic language, this provides a fuller, slightly Hindemithian sound and spikier texture for the album’s culmination. Atlanta Winds provided exemplary support for Rebecca Karpoff at the time but are no longer playing together. (Navona provide no recording dates or locations.) An entertaining album. Guy Rickards

D Boyce ‘The Bird is an Alphabet’ A Book of Songsa. Ars poeticab. Scriptoriumc

a Robert Baker ten aMolly Orlando pf c Byrne:Kozar:Duo; bcounter)induction (Marlanda Dekine spkr Nurit Pacht vn Daniel Lippel gtr Caleb van der Swaagh vc) New Focus (FCR387 • 60’)

For the American composer Douglas Boyce, writing music is an act of

philosophising. Each of the recent vocalchamber works gathered on this album revolves around a distinctive stylistic orientation and scoring. The effect is not merely an array of varying sound environments but an interrogation of the nature of language – musical and verbal, and the potential interlockings between these conduits of meaning – along with its limits and liberations.

Boyce, born in 1970 and a humanist committed to probing the significance of creating music in the present vis-à-vis its historical burden, shows a particular kinship to the polyphonic inquisitiveness of the poet Jorie Graham. His setting of ‘A Feather for Voltaire’ (from Graham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection The Dream of the Unified Field) not only

launches the album but is the source of its title (the poem begins: ‘The bird is an alphabet’). Graham’s splendid text itself transmogrifies ‘nature poetry’ into (at times unsettling) philosophic rumination about the nature of art.

Boyce positions ‘Feather’ as the first in his triptych A Book of Songs for piano and tenor, complemented by settings of fellow American poets BJ Ward (‘The Apple Orchard in October’) and Wallace Stevens (the remarkable ‘Cy est pourtraicte, Madame Ste Ursule, et les unze mille vierges’ from Stevens’s debut collection, Harmonium). Even here, in the most conventionally scored cycle on the album, Boyce recalibrates assumptions about the art song. Pianist Molly Orlando’s exchanges with the tenor – Robert Baker’s timbre uncannily evoking echoes of Peter Pears – drift unpredictably between neoExpressionist word-painting and alluring abstractions.

The four-part cycle Scriptorium from 2021 sets rigorous but gorgeously wrought texts by the Tennessee poet Melissa Range as duets for soprano and trumpet (Corrine Byrne and Andy Kozar). Boyce draws on his longstanding interest in medieval and early music, exploiting the alienness of rhythmic and contrapuntal practice and his peculiar coupling of timbres to striking, avant-garde effect.

A third, bracingly vernacular exploration of song and chamber music emerges in the collaborative Ars poetica, the most recent work on the album, which Boyce characterises as ‘an intersection of worlds … thinking on what it is to live, to love, even to merely be in the Zerrissenheit of this world’. The poetry by Marlanda Dekine (a member of South Carolina’s Gullah Geechee community) addresses American culture and the struggle for identity from both intimate and epic perspectives. Dekine delivers a riveting spoken-word performance every bit as virtuosic as the commentary and instrumental interludes played by the trio of violin, cello and guitar – members of the artist collective counter)induction, which Boyce co-founded in 1998. Shades of Copland in his populist mode enter,