I think a lot of my motivation for listening to The Beauty of Innuendos was a desire to learn what on Earth the composer, Frank Felice, meant by “consonant adiatonicism”. I’m still not sure I really know. In any event there’s some enjoyable music on the record though I did find it a bit of a mixed bag.
There are four “song cycles” on the record. The first is Four Songs of Jennifer Haines which sets four texts about the poet’s break up with her (female) lover in the wastes of Montana, thus creating a new genre of High Plains lesbian break up song. I wasn’t much enamoured of this piece. It’s workmanlike but neither the texts nor the melodic, largely tonal setting really did it for me.
On the other hand i very much enjoyed Thirteen Ways of looking at a Blackbird. This sets fourteen (there’s a prologue) very compressed, evocative and thought provoking texts by Wallace Stevens. The music here is more varied. There’s more chromaticism in the piano part with elements of minimalism. The vocal part is very varied, some times a capella and sometimes sits quite high for a mezzo. Above all it’s playful and fun to listen to.
Letters to Dennick is another piece I really didn’t quite get. It sets fragments of texts written by an angsty teenage girl to baritone Derrick Pennix (apparently they met on a bus). To be fair the music is quite interesting and there’s one song that stood out in a weird way. It’s “Sporting Life”. The text is a series of fannish comments about Chicago sports teams (the Bears missed the playoffs… don’t they always?). The music though is wild. It’s a bit like one of Charles Ives’ crazier pieces describing a parade in small town New England.
The Four Antiphons of Hildegard of Bingen are really interesting though. They set four texts dealing with the redemption of the corrupt Church through Christ’s blood. They start very dark with “O virgo Ecclesia” which gets a slow, dark setting which gets more dramatic before lightening up a bit. The mood becomes more yearning and more chromatic in “Nunc gaudeat materna viscera Ecclesia”, then lighter, brighter and spritelier in the more optimistic “O orchzis Ecclesia”. It finishes up with the ecstatic “O charuscans lux stellarum” where the music gets really busy before closing in a lower register with very sparse scoring that works really well with the text.
So there you have it. It’s a very varied assortment of music; some of which I liked more than other bits. I can’t though fault the committed performances by mezzo soprano Mitzi Westra and pianist Gregory Martin. The music was recorded in January 2020 and May 2022 at the Ruth Lilly Performance Hall in the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center, University of Indianapolis and it’s very well done indeed. Also, as with most recordings on this label, there’s a wealth of information online including full texts of all four works and translation of the von Bingen Latin texts.
It’s a digital release available on the usual streaming platforms and for download in MP3 and FLAC (44.1kHZ/16 bit or 48kHz/24 bit). I listened to the Hi-res FLAC. Release date is January 27th 2023.
Catalogue number: Navona Records NV6488