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CD Review

Juliana Hall

MSR 1603

Love's Signature
- Songs for Countertenor and Soprano

  • Mistress Mine, 12 Songs
  • Lawn as white as driven snow
  • happy fair!
  • If love make me forsworn
  • Who is Silvia?
  • O, mistress mine
  • If music be the food of love
  • Take, o take those lips away
  • Tell me where is Fancy bred
  • Come away, come away, death
  • This is a very scurvy tune to sing
  • Blow, blow, thou winter wind
  • Fear no more the heat o' th' sun
  • Syllables Of Velvet, Sentences Of Plush, 7 songs for Soprano & Piano on Letters of Emily Dickinson
  • To Eudocia C. Flynt *
  • To T. W. Higginson *
  • To Emily Fowler (Ford) *
  • To Samuel Bowles the younger *
  • To Eugenia Hall*
  • To Susan Gilbert (Dickinson) I *
  • To Susan Gilbert (Dickinson) II *
  • Propriety, 5 Songs for Soprano & Piano on Poems by Marianne Moore
  • Mercifully*
  • Carnegie Hall: Rescued*
  • Dream*
  • Propriety*
  • Melchior Vulpius *
Darryl Taylor, countertenor
Juliana Hall, piano
* Susan Narucki, soprano
* Donald Berman, piano
MSR Classics MS1603 71:00
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

Juliana Hall is known primarily as an art song composer, though she has written some chamber and instrumental music as well. She has written over forty song collections thus far and her music has attracted the attention of some the most important artists on the scene today, including countertenor Brian Asawa, for whom she composed O Mistress Mine. Until receiving this disc, I was unfamiliar with the music of Ms. Hall. That was very much my misfortune, because if I am allowed to make judgments about her solely from the songs on this disc, I would say she is a composer of great talent and with a reasonably individual style. Her music is tonal, very accessible, colorful and often profound. That word "profound" is not a word I like to throw around, but it does apply here, at least some of the time, and for once too, there is nothing that sounds cutesy or pretentious in her works. The music is often very somber, sometimes dead-serious, but there is ample wit and lightheartedness mixed in as well.

The most substantive effort here is the twelve-song collection O Mistress Mine, written in 2016 for countertenor and piano on texts by William Shakespeare. It is not just substantial in its nearly forty-two minute length but in the depth of expression permeating the dozen songs, from the celestial passion that arises out of the depths in If love make me forsworn to the desolate Greensleeves takeoff If music be the food of love; from the morbid gloom of Come away, come away, death to the zany humor of This is a very scurvy tune to sing (at a man's funeral). There is a whole world of expression and emotion in this collection, and the writing for both voice and piano is quite inventive.

The other two collections here were written much earlier: the 1989 Syllables of Velvet, Sentences of Plush for soprano and piano on letters of Emily Dickinson, and the 1992 Propriety for soprano and piano on poems by Marianne Moore. The Dickinson songs are generally light in mood and typically quite brief, while the works in the Moore collection are more serious and longer. Again, the music shows invention and great depth of expression. But here again is one of those cases where I can make the review easy on both me and the reader by directing interested parties to do a search on YouTube where, as I write this, you can find performances of these songs (and others by Hall), which will clearly help you decide if they are to your liking.

What will certainly be to your liking are the performances on this disc. In the Shakespeare songs Darryl Taylor divulges the finest countertenor voice I have ever heard. Period. He sounds perfectly natural, with never a hint of anything falsetto in his tones. He also sings with a fine grasp on the drama in the text, expressing it with all-out commitment. A fine artist he is. Of course, the composer on the piano adds the final measure of authority to these performances. Susan Narucki also sings splendidly throughout the other two collections and veteran pianist Donald Berman accompanies her with subtlety and a deft touch that pulls back for deference and pushes forward for assertiveness at just the right moments. MSR Classics' sound reproduction is clear and well balanced. By the way, these are world premiere recordings. My verdict – highly recommended!

Copyright © 2017, Robert Cummings