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Bright-Eyed Joy: The Songs of Ricky Ian Gordon
     

Bright-Eyed Joy: The Songs of Ricky Ian Gordon

by Eric Stern
 
On her 1998 debut solo album Way Back to Paradise, Broadway star Audra McDonald recorded four musical settings composed by Ricky Ian Gordon for poems by Langston Hughes and James Agee. That may have been the inspiration for this album, on which McDonald, Judy Blazer, Darius de Haas, Adam Guettel and Dawn Upshaw sing more poems musicalized by Gordon. (Three of

Overview

On her 1998 debut solo album Way Back to Paradise, Broadway star Audra McDonald recorded four musical settings composed by Ricky Ian Gordon for poems by Langston Hughes and James Agee. That may have been the inspiration for this album, on which McDonald, Judy Blazer, Darius de Haas, Adam Guettel and Dawn Upshaw sing more poems musicalized by Gordon. (Three of the tracks from Way Back to Paradise, the Hughes poems "Dream Variations," "Song for a Dark Girl," and "Daybreak in Alabama," are repeated here.) Gordon is something of a hybrid composer, not exactly classical, certainly not pop, perhaps leaning toward the musical theater, at least at its artier end. Producer Tommy Krasker in his liner notes name-checks Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, and Stephen Sondheim for the sake of comparison, and those are fair antecedents, at least so far as they indicate Gordon's aspirations. He chooses a variety of types of poems here, and he treats them in different ways, as do the different performers. The ideal matching remains McDonald/Hughes, and there are more of those, "Poor Girl's Ruination/The Dream Keeper," "Love Song for Lucinda" (with de Haas joining in), and "Joy" (which also features de Haas, Theresa McCarthy, and Guettel). Hughes' liberal sentiments are well expressed by McDonald, and Gordon gives them relatively simple music that allows McDonald room for that expression. He also uses some interesting musical forms, such as the ragtime that comes into "Love Song for Lucinda." He is less effective in conveying the caustic humor of Dorothy Parker, at least in "The Red Dress," in which opera singer Upshaw completely ignores Parker's sarcasm. "Résumé/Wail/Frustration," three Parker poems about suicide and murder sung by Blazer, a musical comedy star, and Chris Pedro Trakas, work much better, in part because the singers are interested in the meaning of the words. Blazer also does well by Agee's "I'm Open All Night." Other songs sound sub-operatic and merely pedestrian, the poems mere excuses for the musical exercises. Thus, the album on the whole is uneven, however nobly intended and expertly performed.

Editorial Reviews

Gramophone - Patrick O'Connor
Ricky Ian Gordon is one of the New York-based composers who seem to be creating a new genre, halfway between Amercian art song and show tunes... Gordon's music has echoes of Sondheim, Copland and a generous dash of the blues. The emphasis is on a slightly jokey, half-sad, half-happy mood.

Product Details

Release Date:
04/24/2001
Label:
Nonesuch
UPC:
0075597962628
catalogNumber:
79626

Tracks

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Eric Stern   Primary Artist,Piano,Conductor
Dawn Upshaw   Vocals
Kenneth Burward-Hoy   Viola
Lawrence Feldman   Clarinet,Bass Clarinet
Jesse Levy   Cello
Joe Passaro   Percussion
Clay Ruede   Cello
Andrew Sterman   Clarinet,Soprano Saxophone
Debra Shufelt   Viola
Adam Guettel   Vocals
Helen Campo   Flute,Piccolo
Steve Kenyon   Clarinet,Flute,Alto Saxophone
Ted Sperling   Piano
Judy Blazer   Vocals
Todd Ellison   Piano
Audra McDonald   Vocals
Peter Donovan   Bass
Darius de Haas   Vocals
Mark Thrasher   Clarinet
Ricky Ian Gordon   Piano
Brian Miller   Flute
Grant Gershon   Piano
John Nauman   Piano
Chris Pedro Trakas   Vocals
Brian Miller   Flute
Theresa McCarthy   Vocals
Joseph Passaro   Percussion

Technical Credits

Langston Hughes   Poetry,Text
Edna St. Vincent Millay   Text
Dorothy Parker   Poetry,Text
William Stanley Merwin   Poetry,Text
Bruce Coughlin   Orchestration
Robert Hurwitz   Executive Producer
Tommy Krasker   Producer,Liner Notes
Tom Lazarus   Engineer
Joel Moss   Engineer
James Agee   Text
Ricky Ian Gordon   Composer,Orchestration

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