"On This Island" is Benjamin Britten’s setting of five poems from W. H. Auden’s previously published collection by the same name. Britten and Auden worked closely together on the cycle, and their compositional mastery shines in this work.
Britten and Auden’s friendship and working relationship began in the mid 1930's, early in Britten’s career, when they both worked for the film department of the British government’s General Post Office. From their beginnings with the GPO, they went on to collaborate on song cycles, plays, and operas. Britten and Auden shared a prodigious talent and discipline, deeply held pacifist philosophy, and the demands of homosexual life in a society that was decidedly hostile toward that lifestyle. They also shared a mutual admiration for one another, although the young Britten was admittedly dazzled by Auden’s keen intellect and charismatic personality. During this period, Britten’s outlook was influenced by Auden’s rather cynical position toward conventional British life, politics, and morality.
This recording was made at Carswell Concert Hall, Meredith College, Raleigh, NC on October 14, 2013.
About the songs:
"Let the florid music praise" opens the cycle with trumpet calls, cascading piano arpeggios, and a melismatic vocal line, giving the piece a distinctly Baroque-period flair. As the title of the song suggests, the song is an overly ornamented tribute to the power of beauty in the land of the living, giving way to a quiet contemplation of the inevitability of suffering and death.
"Now the leaves are falling fast " continues the theme of death in the cycle of life, with a fast moving vocal line that evokes the dried leaves flitting through the cold gusts of autumn. This vocal line continues, building in agitation as the text then metaphorically likens this coldness and sense of dread to that wrought by a judging and vengeful society, with its “whispering neighbors” and “scolding trolls,” building in crescendo and climaxing with an expression of desolation, then winding down with a wistful observation of what might be.
"Seascape" depicts the seaside in a characteristically romantic fashion, with its arpeggiated piano line mimicking the rolling surf. This underlies a lyrical declamation by the poet describing what he sees and hears for one moment as he looks out over the chalk cliffs of “this island” toward the sea.
"Nocturne" is at once sensual and foreboding, with a slowly pulsing and rising vocal line over a repeating minor triad in the piano that resembles a funeral march. The text begins by metaphorically referring to clandestine love and its furtive aftermath; the music imparts the sense of lovers’ caresses, hidden by the cover of night, and fleeing from the light of day and the persecution of a judgmental society. The music gains dramatic momentum and quietly resolves as the poet pleads for empathy for our “friend,” and finally, rest.
"As it is, plenty", a cabaret-style song, is a gleeful satire of the pre-WWII upper middle class. Britten sets Auden’s biting lyrics with a dissonant dancing accompaniment, which mockingly echos the melodic theme in the voice.
About the artists:
“…a stylish and polished performance…”
-Classical Voice of North Carolina
“…lovely performance…(I) am touched by the bittersweet quality…”
-Elizabeth Vercoe, composer
“…her voice is so pure and her singing, so lucid…”
-Erez Henya, composer
-Pepper Choplin, composer
“…unfailingly luminescent and sonically luxurious…”
-Webster Alexander Rogers, Director, Friday Morning Music Club Chorale and Orchestra
Jennifer Paschal, soprano, has won acclaim for her performances of opera, oratorio, and song recitals. She has been a featured artist with the Raleigh Symphony, Capitol Opera Raleigh, Washington D.C.’s Friday Morning Music Club Chorale, among other arts organizations in the US. She made her European debut singing the role of the Countess in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro at the Tiber Sinfonia Festival in Sansepulcro, Italy. She has sung several roles with the Meredith College Opera Theater, a highlight being Ms. Wordsworth in Britten’s comic opera, "Albert Herring". Classical Voice of North Carolina praised her performance with the Raleigh Symphony as “stylish and polished.” She has performed in master classes with luminaries such as Timothy Myers of the NC Opera, Claudia Waite of the Metropolitan Opera, and Thomas Grubb of the Manhattan School of Music. Recent recitals include performances for the Cherry Hill Concert Series, the Halle Classical Concert Series, and the Virginia Tull Music and Arts series in the NC Triangle area.
Recognized for the beauty of her voice and sensitive interpretation, she has won several awards, including the 2012 Meredith College Concerto/Aria competition, the 2011 NC National Association of Teachers of Singing Auditions, Continuing Education Division, and the 2011 NCNATS Continuing Education Award. She had the distinction of serving as the inaugural Artist-in-Residence at Wake Forest Baptist Church from 2010 – 2012. Ms. Paschal is also a voice over artist and a voice teacher, and maintains a studio at her home in Raleigh, NC.
About Andrew Kraus…
“Bravo Shouted the Audience…[when Andrew] Kraus delighted the them with his virtuoso interpretations in Lemförde and inspired them to ‘bravo’ and ‘encore’…”.
--(Diepholzer Kreisblatt, August 12, 2012
“He is a strong pianist, with a solid virtuoso technique. In fact, I do not think there is anything he cannot do at a keyboard.”
--Joan Dornemann, Assistant Conductor, The Metropolitan Opera
“He is a fine pianist, a true artist, and a very rare combination of virtuoso and collaborator.”
--In Dal Choi, Vocal Area Coordinator, James Madison University School of Music
Andrew Kraus, pianist, based in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, is known for his work as an accomplished and sensitive collaborator, for concert work with singers and instrumentalists as well as for coaching emerging performers. In 2013, he released a concert recording of Martinu's "Sonatine for Trumpet and Piano" with Kenneth Moulton on the CD Baby label.
Mr. Kraus has performed as a soloist across the U.S., Europe, and Asia in recitals. In November 2012, Mr. Kraus released a recording on the CD Baby label, "Music from the Golden Age of the Piano". He has been a performing participant in master classes with Peter Feuchtwanger and Leon Fleisher. In Spring 2009, he performed as the featured soloist with The Mantovani Orchestra on their Spring tour of China. In July 2013 he returned for his sixth year as a coach at Crittenden Summer Opera in Chevy Chase, MD. He is currently Adjunct Staff Pianist at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC and Adjunct Instructor of Piano at University of Mary Washington. He maintains a piano studio in Rockville, Maryland. He is the author of a paper, "Integrating Tai-Chi/Qi-Gong and Piano Practice" published in the "International Society for the Study of Tension in Performance Journal".
We are grateful to artist Anne Elizabeth Howard for the unlimited use of her painting, “Deep Water,” for our cover. Her painting wonderfully captures the depth, intensity, and intrigue of On This Island.
Thanks to Conrad Osipowicz, Audio Engineer Extraordinare, for his tasteful mastering of the recording.
Special thanks to Joe Howard for the photography and cover design.
Our heartfelt appreciation goes to Dr. Ellen Williams, Vocal Coordinator for the Meredith College Department of Music, for her tireless assistance with our preparation for the concert performance of this work.
Special thanks to Dr. Demar Neal, Adjunct Professor with the Meredith College Department of Music, for his insight and historical perspectives, which aided our interpretation and performance of this work.
We are also grateful to the rest of the faculty and administrative staff of the Meredith College Department of Music for their support of this project, especially Dr. Frances Page and Ms. Jeannette Rogers.