The poetry of James Wright, represented here by the cycle The Branch Will Not Break, has been set to music several times. That of Kay Ryan, despite her status as U.S. Poet Laureate from 2008 to 2010, is perhaps less common, and the Grammy nomination (for Best Chamber Music Performance) garnered in 2019 by this New Amsterdam Recordings release was inspired partly by the fact that setting Ryan's poetry, especially as composer Christopher Cerrone does here, makes such perfect sense. Cerrone's style sets delicate vocal lines against angular, abstract instrumental combinations. It works well enough in The Branch Will Not Break, which uses a small chorus effectively, and in Bill Knott's breakup poems The Naomi Songs. However, in the Ryan poems, with their short, fragmentary lines belying intense emotional content, the style really packs a punch. Ryan's set gains in strength of feeling as it proceeds, and by the time it reaches "Insult," it compels attention. The large chamber group Wild Up is attuned to Cerrone's music, although some of the singers may require you to turn to the texts provided (in the CD version) to attain the all-important text intelligibility here. For Kay Ryan fans, among others, this is a must.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|The Pieces That Fall to Earth|
|The Naomi Songs|
|The Branch Will Not Break|