Navona have just produced an interesting album of art song by Alabama based composer Carl Vollrath. Old & New Poetry consists of three cycles setting texts by William Blake, Sara Teasdale and John Gracen Brown.
The disk opens with five short Blake settings for mezzo-soprano and piano. The songs are accomplished and playful and Yoko Hagino on piano is highly competent. Mezzo Aliana de la Guardia sings clearly and expressively but seems challenged by the higher sections of some pieces.
The middle cycle sets seven longer poems from Sara Teasdale’s Love Songs for soprano, piano and clarinet. I really like the varied mood of these pieces and the clarinet adds an interesting texture. The vocal line is quite complex and well sung by Emalie Savoy who has a rich but very clear voice. It’s all very accomplished and the variation in tone from the rather dark “Dusk in Wartime” through the more exuberant “Joy” to the very funny “Faults” is most enjoyable. Timothy Phillips on clarinet and Nathan Brandwein on piano are both excellent.
The longest piece on the disk is Variations in Verse – Rural Poems setting texts by John Gracen Brown. There are fourteen poems set for mezzo-soprano, saxophone and piano. Again the pieces are varied in tone but, in general, seem to suit Aliana de la Guardia better than the Blake settings. The texts are well interpreted and there’s some power in places with very little sign of the strain that bugged me in the Blake. I guess I’d describe most of the pieces as “lyrical” but there’s definitely contrast as in, for example, the playful “His and Ours” or the nervously energetic “Coming of a Summer Rainstorm”. There’s excellent playing too from Yoko Hagino on piano and Philipp Stäudlin on saxophone. The subtle difference between clarinet and saxophone is intriguing too.
The recordings, made in New York and Massachusetts are nicely balanced and clear. All in all, this is another worthwhile offering of contemporary American art song which I really enjoyed. Old & New Poetry will be released on June 11th in physical and digital formats.