New Voices is the latest CD from the Brooklyn Art Song Society. It features songs by Glen Roven, Michael Djupstrom, James Kallenbach and Herschel Gerfein. What most struck me was the retro feel of all four composers’ works. We are in a tonal sound world with occasional jazz/folk inflections and the piano line is clearly written to support the voice. One might be listening to, say Ned Rorem. I say this because it’s such a contrast with the songs being written by contemporary Canadian composers with their chromaticism, experimental and frequently changing time signatures and often almost adversarial relation between voice and piano. Which one prefers, of course, is a matter of taste.
There are four singers featured, all accompanied by Michael Brofman on piano. Soprano Laura Strickling songs Roven’s The Vineyard Songs. Her fruity sound copes well with the generally high tessitura of the pieces and she is idiomatic in the jazz inflected elements. Baritone Kyle Oliver is pleasant to hear in his short contribution; Djupstrom’s Oars in the Water. I found soprano Elisabeth Marshall’s contribution; Kallenbach’s Four Romantic Songs (which, curiously, includes a setting of Allerseelen very different from Herr Stauss’) less successful. Her high notes tend rather to get away from her and the pieces start to sound overwrought. I really like mezzo Krista River whose voice, at once rich and bright, made the most of the final piece; Gerfein’s Two Stoppard Songs.
The CD, on the Roven Records label and distributed by Naxos, is worth listening to for an idea of what’s going on songwise in New York but compared to the work being commissioned by CASP these last few years I found it less than ground breaking.