Bolcom: Songs of Innocence and Experienceby Leonard Slatkin
Only a handful of audiences have experienced William Bolcom's Songs of Innocence and Experience since its 1984 premiere, so gratitude is owed to Naxos for the work's first recording, one of the must-hear classical CDs of 2004. Bolcom's massive cycle sets 46 William Blake poems (grouped into nine shorter sequences), lasting over two hours. With the huge orchestra and chorus augmented by a large cast of vocal soloists -- as well as fiddler, harmonica, and electronic instruments -- the song settings veer between choral madrigals, modernist art song, folksong, and even reggae. Hovering in the background are Mahler's all-inclusiveness, Britten's poetic juxtapositions (and his vocal writing), and Bernstein's versatility, but this encyclopedic and eclectic work is still absolutely unique. Bolcom's Songs as a whole convey a grand arch of human existence but will also be appreciated for the charm and expressiveness of individual songs, which invariably marry musical style to poetry in illuminating ways. Leonard Slatkin, a longtime champion of the score, leads a live performance from the University of Michigan (where Bolcom teaches), and the recording preserves the excitement of the occasion. With so many strikingly fine soloists it almost seems unfair to single out Joan Morris (Bolcom's wife and frequent cabaret partner), who adds an earthy touch to some of the popular-style numbers; the young soprano Measha Brueggergosman, who contributes two beautifully lyrical "Songs of Innocence" on the first disc; and the dramatic soprano Christine Brewer, whose powerful "Earth's Answer" sets the tone for the darker "Songs of Experience" that follow. Bolcom is one of America's most accomplished composers; he has a true gift for communicating with audiences in the opera house or the concert hall. The Songs of Innocence and Experience are as rich as any great art, yet accessible through and through -- and this admirable recording should do the job of spreading their renown.
- Release Date:
- Naxos American
- Songs of Innocence and Experience, for soloists, choruses, and orchestra
Performance CreditsLeonard Slatkin Primary Artist
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If you can't attend a performance of this spectacular piece, this is the next best thing. The genius of Bolcom is in making it fit together--and boy does it. (I attended the US premiere, the Slatkin live performance and the Minneapolis performance where the the Blake illuminations--original engravings--projected above the full emnsembles was one of the greatest art performance combinations I've ever witnessed.) On this CD set, the recording artists are all excellent and the University of Michigan low brass and percussion give uniqueness to the recording unlike any other emsemble on the globe.
This is the most amazing piece of music I have ever heard. I haven't purchased it yet-- I just heard it on the radio tonight (KUSC Los Angeles)-- and I was absolutely floored! It is true to Blake, and the composition is incredible. I enjoyed every minute of it-- at times, it made me laugh; a surprise lurks around every corner. Buy it! I am about to!