THE OWL AND THE PUSSY-CAT AND OTHER SONGS OF LOVE
Here are eight songs by diverse poets. Among them are Edward Lear’s whimsical yet touching nonsense-romance, “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat;” Conrad Aiken’s plaintive remembrance of a life partner, “Music I Heard with You;” and Daniel Ladinsky’s exuberant “There Is a Wonderful Game,” an invitation to realize the transcendent unity of all mankind.
FOUR SONGS OF EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY
This cycle includes “Recuerdo”, one of Millay’s most familiar poems, in which the poet recalls a happy night traveling back and forth on the Staten Island Ferry, and “Afternoon on a Hill”, a song of youthful delight in nature.
This is a portion of the Mass, in Latin. Composed in five sections, the short text becomes a full canvas of personal, spiritual feeling: from rapturous praise, to quiet and steadfast faith, to a sense of urgent pleading that we, on earth, become aware of God’s glorious presence.
TOM HERMAN’S compositions have been performed both in the United States and Canada as well as in Europe. He has written art songs, chamber music, and music theater pieces for which he served both as composer and lyricist. He has received various grants for composition, including a National Endowment Fellowship Award for his theater piece “Objets trouvés.” Mr. Herman has taught at Fordham University and Sarah Lawrence College.
REBECCA LUKER starred in the acclaimed revival of “The Music Man,” garnering Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations for her role as Marian. She appeared in the Kennedy Center production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion,” and her other theatrical credits include roles in “Mary Poppins,” “Nine,” “The Sound of Music,” “ Show Boat,” “The Secret Garden,” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” She performed in the New York City Opera production of “Brigadoon” and has appeared with many orchestras, including the New Jersey and St. Louis Symphonies, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Boston Pops. Her numerous recording credits include “Leaving Home,” “Anything Goes: Rebecca Luker Sings Cole Porter,” “The Sound of Music,” “The Secret Garden,” and “The Music Man.”
REVIEW BY ROB LESTER at talkinbroadway.com:
Setting various texts and poems with moods ranging from dreamy-romantic to sorrowful to the reverence of the Latin Mass, composer Tom Herman has found the dream of a muse for his music—Broadway’s Rebecca Luker. The CD begins with a sprightly tune for the kid-friendly Edward Lear tale of the inter-species marriage of “The Owl and the Pussycat” before going into more serious material, with some pieces that could be classified as art songs. The often-surprising melody lines are variously tender and intimate or soaringly joyful or meditative. Versatile Rebecca Luker truly serves the material. Happily, the wide-ranging melodies with some shimmering ascents and elastic lines also become a showcase for her strong and glorious, clear soprano voice. Her chameleon-like performance proves her to be comfortably at home with each piece. Her strengths include projecting a sense of awe in both the Mass and various love-struck romantic ruminations. Rhapsodically, “Recuerdo” relishes a rush of memories of a heady night for two lovers, one of the five poems of Edna St. Vncent Millay.
Not all is sweetness and light. Addressed subjects include grieving and loss, both for specific people and times gone by. Though they confront sorrow, the musical choices and interpretation keep the sad subject matter in a thoughtful mode, rather than drowning in melodramatic mawkish misery. There’s a classical elegance here that makes feelings float rather than spurt. The long-lined legato approach with a high voice sometimes has the music and voice demand a listener’s initial attention more so than the words. The album title stating this is music for voice perhaps justifies this. There is no question, however, that agendas for mood-setting and broad strokes are definitely achieved, even if some specific images that are painted in the words are swept along in the wave of music. These assert themselves more with repeated listenings and by following the full texts provided in the booklet (which also characterizes each piece succinctly in liner notes by the composer). Accompaniment does not distract or diffuse, as it is kept minimalistic. Recital style, there is just piano for the first 12 tracks (well done by Brian Zeger for eight and Joseph Thalken for the cluster of four short Millay poems). The Sanctus features Grant Wenaus on piano and adds the cello of Clay Ruede, a great asset not just for variety but for his fine work.
Especially effective and evocative is “I, Icarus” (text by Alden Nowlan), where the speaker recalls, “I lay on my bed and willed myself to fly.” Without resorting to telegraphing or cliché, composer Herman makes musical choices to illustrate the poem’s images of flight and the repeated words “above,” “higher” and “slowly” to tell the story and give it also an attitude of determined convincingness and a longing for a long-ago time.
Taking up more than one third of the album’s playing time (49:43), the Sanctus from the Mass is in five movements, just using the few lines over and over, so it’s in its own category. It’s a matter of glorying in the glory (of the Lord and the Heaven-sent music and lovely, lithe Luker vocal sounds that swell and soar).
Recording classical music and a reverential approach is not a new feather in the singer’s cap: she has lent her voice to a series of Aria albums that use her soprano’s ethereal quality. Here it’s the brightness and clarity and directness of the approach that are front and center. Still, listeners who are strictly Broadway fans and tend not to be musical genre-jumpers may not be as willing to make the leap to the art song and religious territory. But many admirers of Rebecca Luker’s gleaming and warm soprano should find the same qualities they’ve enjoyed on her many cast albums.
As for composer Tom Herman, who is new to me, I enjoy his talents on display here and am interested to hear a musical he has on tap, Jack’s Back. One piece here has his own words, “Birthday Horoscope for B.R.” and that shows sensitivity, too, like his affectionate attention to other words he sets. His other career is as a massage therapist (you may have seen him play one in the 2006 comic film Borat), and Music for Voice, indeed, with its soothing sounds and sure-handed musicality is like a massage for the ear and brain. There’s much to relax to—and be moved by—here, when musical masseuse meets marvelous chanteuse.