John Plant: Vocal Works in Eight Languages

Jocelyne Fleury

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John Plant: Vocal Works in Eight Languages Review

by James Manheim

American-born composer John Plant worked and taught for much of his life in Montreal, Quebec. There's a lot to recommend this group of his songs, beginning with their attractive vocal writing and continuing with the mezzo-soprano voice of Jocelyne Fleury, rounded yet distinctively passionate. Each work includes a dedication to someone close to the composer, and the opening song La notte bella, composed to a mystical World War I poem by Giuseppe Ungaretti, is a highly effective setting. Plant can handle Lorca's lengthy Romance sonámbulo (Sleepwalking Ballad) evocatively, and his chamber-group settings of that poem and Swedish writer Göran Sonnevi's In the world of zero contain intriguing textures. The central work on the program, however, is less successful, and Plant's own notes give the listener very little assistance in dealing with it. Plant states that the "eight songs in eight languages" of Babel is a blessing (originally performed in a version for chamber orchestra) are a collection of songs, not a cycle, and that they may be performed singly or in partial groups, in any order. They might do better treated in one of those ways; taken together, they emphasize the sameness of the songs. The eight languages are ancient Greek, French, Italian, Spanish, German, English, Latin, and Russian, each of them carrying a whole history of negotiations between poetry and music, but Plant only slightly alters his style as he approaches them. Texts are given in the original language and in English; Plant's booklet notes are in English only.

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