This recital disc does exactly what a great classical record is supposed to do: It illuminates, informs, wakes up the listener to the greatness of the particular music.
Any up to date reference book will state that Ned Rorem (b. Richmond, Indiana 1923) is America's greatest classical song composer. It is not unusual to find a few of his hundreds of songs or a song cycle on a particular disc, and they never fail to evoke admiration.
This disc, though, is a daunting program of thirty-two of his songs, presented back to back. Susan Graham's artistry and vocal beauty kept this listener's ears as fresh for the music after sixty minutes as during the first. She illuminates just how admirably wrought and varied Rorem's songs are, how carefully they are guarded against excess gesture, how natural the vocal lines are, at how often they create the illusion that the notes were born directly from the words of the poetry.
The disc shows what a careful reader of poetry Rorem is. Recent American poets such as Roethke, O'Hara, Bynner, and Goodwin are presented side-by-side with Tennyson, Yeats, Frost, and Whitman.
The accompaniment is mostly by pianist Malcolm Martineau, who is outstanding and reveals the deft and unobtrusive way the piano texture supports the songs. (A fine example is in Rorem's re-setting of the words and melody to Stephen Foster's Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair to a piano texture that is light and airy of Jeannie herself.) A few songs are accompanied by members of a piano trio called the Oriol Ensemble, who are also fine. The September 1999 recording was made at Teldec Studios in Berlin by producer Tim Oldham and sound engineer Jacques Doll, and is clean and appropriately intimate.