Bright-Eyed Joy: The Songs of Ricky Ian Gordon

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - William Ruhlmann
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 ...
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April 24, 2001 CD Fine in very good packaging.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - William Ruhlmann
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.
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.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 4/24/2001
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • UPC: 075597962628
  • Catalog Number: 79626

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
W.S. Merwin Poetry, Text
Bruce Coughlin Orchestration
Robert Hurwitz Executive Producer
Tommy Krasker Producer, Liner Notes
Tom Lazarus Engineer
Joel Moss Engineer
Ric Wilson Mastering
James Agee Text
Ricky Ian Gordon Composer, Orchestration
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • 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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