A special eight-page section focusing on recent recordings from the US and Canada talks to... Daniel Okulitch The Canadian bass-baritone on his recording of American art songs

Explain the concept of the album… With each of the four song-cycles, we tried to find a narrative within them. Even the two songs in Jake [Heggie]’s Of Gods and Cats have similar irreverence and therefore work together as a pair. Across the album, I wanted a balance of mood – so although a couple of the songs by Glen [Roven] have a lightness about them, I liked the obvious humour of these pieces by Jake as a contrast. It was a rare opportunity to find four composers who were all happy to accompany me and were as excited about the project as I was. How did the project arise? Glen had approached me and said he was looking to record an album with me, and when we eventually met up in New York I realised that he was a very serious, legitimate musician. There isn’t a narrative as such, but, as the name of his cycle suggests, Songs from the Underground was inspired by the poems he read on the tube while living in London. What drew you to the other composers? Jake and I were already friends from when I’d done Dead Man Walking, so he was on board from the beginning. Of Gods and Cats had originally been recorded by Jennifer Larmore, so we had to change the key but Jake was very accommodating. Lowell [Liebermann] and I had never met but I immediately fell in love with the ethereal, atmospheric quality of his Night Songs. As for Ricky [Ian Gordon], we spent a wonderful afternoon playing through his pieces, and eventually came up with a cycle that charted an emotional journey which I could identify with. I love where ‘As Planned’, to words by Frank O’Hara, comes in the cycle. ‘After the first glass of vodka you can accept just about anything…’ – a moment of respite from what’s come before.

‘A s Planned’ isn’t the only song that has jazz influences… Jazz is obviously a common aspect in American art song and, since I grew up singing musical theatre, that language and style is very familiar to me. In each song on this album, the music was very clear as to what it was asking of the voice. There’s a laziness, a slurred effect, that I can do when required, but in Glen’s ‘Ozymandias’, say, the music is majestic and declamatory and requires long lines and a very opulent sound. I drew on my opera experience for that. The album incorporates many styles… I love that Glen’s cycle, in particular, asks so many different colours of me. Every piece has a very different and obvious character. In ‘Ozymandias’, the profound nature of the emotion being expressed calls for the voice to sing with more substance. In others, like ‘This is Just to Say’ (‘I have eaten the plums…’), I can bring it back to a thread of line. That’s the glory of art song – the many textures you can create – and if you’re wise, singing this sort of music can make you a better opera singer.





Babcock Irrational Exuberancea. This is what I knowb. Springscapec. All unto med. Metaphor Twoe. Imagined/Rememberedf b Juliana Gondek sop abDoug Masek asax fArmen Ksajikian, aDavid Speltz vcs bRakefet Hak, efRobert Thies, aLouise Thomas pfs dThe Coventry and Canterbury Choirs of All Saints Church, Pasadena, CA / James Walker; cThe Debussy Trio Navona F NV5998 (58’ • DDD)

You might not expect a composer who has contributed to such action films as Die Hard and Lethal Weapon to be as comfortable in the, shall we say, less driven world of chamber, vocal and choral music. Then again, Bruce Babcock is an unexpected composer, as this disc of his music, entitled ‘Time, Still’, reflects in striking ways.

The six works reveal a musician who blends superior craftsmanship with a colourful, expressive sense of narrative. Each piece is scored for a different complement of instruments and/or singers. All are fresh in texture. Babcock’s rhythmic vitality is core to Irrational Exuberance, scored for alto saxophone, cello and piano. The sax (wondrously played by Doug Masek) is also present, with soprano and piano, in This is what

I know, four affecting and dramatic songs on poems of Dorothy Parker.

Babcock shows his Impressionistic stripes in Springscape, a glistening and atmospheric conversation for harp, flute and viola. The aura is completely different in All unto me, a soaring a cappella choral work dedicated to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Brief, but haunting in its sense of time and stillness, is Metaphor Two for solo piano. The three movements of Imagined/Remembered, for cello and piano, range from zesty and lyrical to dark-hued and jaunty, with all sorts of delicious rhythmic and harmonic twists to maintain suspense.

Along with saxophonist Masek, the disc’s performers comprise a host of superb Los gramophone.co.uk