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Bright-Eyed Joy: The Songs of Ricky Ian Gordon

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    A Heavenly Recording by Greg varner

    A heavenly recording Talented singers interpret the songs of Ricky Ian Gordon Audra McDonald (left) and Darius de Haas flank composer Ricky Ian Gordon. (by Alice Arnold) by Greg Varner Seven talented singers lend their voices to Bright Eyed Joy (Nonesuch), a superb collection of songs by Ricky Ian Gordon. The composer himself provided text for two of these pieces the others are his settings of poems by Langston Hughes, Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, W. S. Merwin, and James Agee. Any gathering of singers that includes Audra McDonald, Dawn Upshaw, Darius de Haas, and Judy Blazer, among others, is something to celebrate these are some of the most beautiful and distinctive voices you&#8217 ll hear anywhere. And they are matched to the material with uncanny precision. Who else but Dawn Upshaw could sing Gordon&#8217 s setting of Dorothy Parker&#8217 s &quot The Red Dress&quot so perfectly? The purity and classicism of Upshaw&#8217 s soprano make her a stellar interpreter of Parker&#8217 s lyric -- especially in Gordon&#8217 s setting, which gives Parker&#8217 s lament a fullness and contemplative sweetness it lacks on the page. (This composer enhances and augments his texts with remarkable delicacy, never becoming intrusive or trampling on the poet&#8217 s original intent. Still, it would be interesting to hear a man sing &quot The Red Dress&quot !) Judy Blazer&#8217 s jazzy delivery is just right for Gordon&#8217 s inspired meshing of three short verses by Parker, &quot Resum&#233 ,&quot &quot Wail,&quot and &quot Frustration.&quot This deathly cackle is reminiscent of Jacques Brel, and Blazer puts a wicked spin on lines like &quot Love has gone a-rocketing. That is not the worst I could do without the thing and not be the first.&quot When she sings a zinger, Blazer simultaneously gives it more sting and more fun. Baritone Chris Pedro Trakas joins Blazer, singing of his frustration at not being able to murder his enemies while she bemoans the obverse, equally cruel fate that leaves one with no enemies at all. Gordon&#8217 s deft counterpoint of &quot Wail&quot and &quot Frustration&quot is wittily bookended by &quot Resum&#233 ,&quot a brief ode to frustrated suicidal impulses. If choreographer Mark Morris&#8217 s work famously unites the sister arts of dance and music, then Gordon joins music with its other sister, poetry. He has composed literally hundreds of art songs as an act of homage to poems that move him. His work finds a home in the neutral territory between classical and theatrical music, sometimes speaking with one accent, sometimes with another. The poet most often represented on this album is Langston Hughes. Audra McDonald, who recorded a handful of Gordon&#8217 s songs for her debut CD, Way Back to Paradise, is heard here on three of those previously released tracks, as well as on a handful of newly recorded works. In her hands, Gordon&#8217 s setting of Hughes&#8217 s &quot The Dream Keeper&quot is a song both of consolation and of mourning. The composer&#8217 s deft use of a sudden rise in pitch emphasizes the singer&#8217 s startled response to the &quot too-rough fingers of the world,&quot and McDonald&#8217 s bereft concluding cries are eloquent, though wordless. &quot Daybreak in Alabama,&quot also with text by Hughes, was a highlight of Way Back to Paradise it remains a subversive gem, positing racial and sexual equality as attainable (and inextricably linked) ideals. Gordon&#8217 s beautiful melody and orchestration can make you weep even after repeated listening &quot Daybreak&quot shimmers with hope and restrained passion. McDonald is joined by the marvelous Dariu

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    Excellent Variety of Well-Executed Songs

    Ricky Ian Gordon's songwriting blends together the expertly-crafted art song with the high-end musical theatre style of Sondheim; it's a perfect combination of excellent compositional styling and wit. Dawn Upshaw triumphs on this recording, and it is her voice, along with Audra McDonald that really bring the album to life, but each singer represented brings points of interest and talent to the recording. (The men, with the exception of the very talented Christ Trakas, leave something to be desired, though...) The selections on this CD are excellent, a wide-ranging gamut of musical styles and emotional impact. Highly recommended!

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