Ulf Schirmer / Munich Radio Orchestra

Gordon Getty: Plump Jack

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As a composer, Gordon Getty is in the unusual and awkward position of having too much money; an heir to the Getty fortune, he has had a difficult time being taken seriously as a composer because of an assumption that he can pay the best performers to take on his music, so did not have to work his way up through the ranks based on the merits of his work. The assumption about his ability to pay for the best may in fact be true, based on the quality of the acclaimed performers on this album, including Ulf Schirmer leading Münchner Rundfunkorchester and Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, and mezzo-soprano Suzanne Mentzer. That doesn't disallow the possibility that his music may stand on its own, though. This recording of Plump Jack, his opera based on the character of Falstaff, uses the concert version of the piece rather than the full opera. Several scenes are omitted and several others are presented only in excerpts, so it's difficult to assess what the overall impact of the opera would be. Getty writes mostly in a lyrical post-Straussian idiom. The opera has many lovely sections, especially when characters are expressing tender emotion, and from moment to moment the music is engaging, but a sense of dramatic direction and momentum is missing. Getty's vocal writing is characteristic of many mid- to late 20th century American operas that use a conservative harmonic palette; it's pleasantly lyrical, a sort of heightened recitative that only rarely bursts into sustained, memorable gestures or melodies that drive the drama forward. The choral sections are some of the opera's most attractive, and the orchestration is skillful, varied, and inventive. Schirmer draws superb performances from the orchestral and choral forces and the singers. Tenor Nikolai Schukoff as Prince Hal stands out for the sweetness and clarity of his voice. The sound of the hybrid SACD is clean and balanced but somewhat sterile.

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