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John Harbison: Chamber Music

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Eddins
The song cycle accompanied by a small instrumental ensemble is one of John Harbison's favored genres, and this CD, featuring vigorous performances by the Chicago Chamber Musicians, includes two of his cycles. Mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson performs "North and South: Six Poems of Elizabeth Bishop," composed in 1999. Harbison's blues-inflected settings of the two "Ballads for Billie [Holliday]" stand out for Bishop's vividly human portrait of her narrator and for Harbison's virtuosity in playfully flirting with popular clichés without ever slipping into them. Hunt Lieberson's performance is artless in the best sense -- these songs come off as entirely honest and ...
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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Eddins
The song cycle accompanied by a small instrumental ensemble is one of John Harbison's favored genres, and this CD, featuring vigorous performances by the Chicago Chamber Musicians, includes two of his cycles. Mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson performs "North and South: Six Poems of Elizabeth Bishop," composed in 1999. Harbison's blues-inflected settings of the two "Ballads for Billie [Holliday]" stand out for Bishop's vividly human portrait of her narrator and for Harbison's virtuosity in playfully flirting with popular clichés without ever slipping into them. Hunt Lieberson's performance is artless in the best sense -- these songs come off as entirely honest and deeply felt expressions of the narrator's character, rather than as artistic "interpretations" -- and she manages to bring the same convincing sense of personality to the more abstract songs in the set. Her voice, warm, velvety, and enveloping, seems to emanate from a pool of great inner strength. Unfortunately, the recorded balance in this cycle favors the instrumental ensemble, and Hunt Lieberson's radiant performance occasionally comes close to being swallowed by the instruments. The other set of songs, "Book of Hours and Seasons: Goethe Settings for voice, flute, violoncello, and piano," is sung by mezzo-soprano Emily Lodine, whose rich and powerful voice, particularly striking in its lower register, is ideal for these strongly dramatic pieces. Both this set and "North and South" are eloquent and significant contributions to American song literature of the late twentieth century, and in a perfect world, would be widely known and frequently performed. Two less substantial works, "Six American Painters for instrumental quartet" and "The Three Wise Men for brass quintet and narrator," fill out the recording. The quartet, a set of attractive quasi-tonal abstract miniatures, would have benefited from a less evocative title; the fact that Winslow Homer inhabits a sound world so idiomatically similar to that of Richard Diebenkorn is disconcerting and distracting. "The Three Wise Men" would be highly effective in the liturgical setting for which it was conceived, but as a concert piece on CD, the alternation of narration with instrumental interludes comes across as stilted and simplistic. The release of the recording corresponded closely to the time of Hunt Lieberson's death in 2006, when she was at the height of her vocal and dramatic prowess. Her poignant performance of Bishop's "Breakfast Song" is heartbreakingly prescient: ... Last night I slept with you. Today I love you so how can I bear to go as soon I must, I know to bed with ugly death in that cold, filthy place, to sleep without you, without the easy breath and nightlong, limblong warmth I've grown accustomed to?....
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 9/26/2006
  • Label: Naxos American
  • UPC: 636943918821
  • Catalog Number: 8559188
  • Sales rank: 251,934

Tracks

Disc 1
  1. 1–6 North and South: Six Poems of Elizabeth Bishop, for mezzo-soprano & chamber ensemble - John Harbison & John Harbison (19:14)
  2. 7–12 Six American Painters, for flute & string trio - John Harbison & Chicago Chamber Musicians (13:10)
  3. 13–20 The Three Wise Men (from Christmas Vespers), for brass quintet & narrator - John Harbison & Chicago Chamber Musicians (15:36)
  4. 21–25 Book of Hours and Seasons, for mezzo-soprano, flute, violoncello & piano - John Harbison & John Harbison (18:10)
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Album Credits

Performance Credits
Chicago Chamber Musicians Primary Artist
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