Merlyn Quaife

Lest We Forget: A Manifest of Struggle and Hope

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This self-proclaimed classical protest CD from Australia has gained lots of attention in that country, and rightfully so. It is intended, read the notes by soprano Merlyn Quaife, "to remind ourselves that the relaxed and comfortable culture our government was intent on bringing us was in fact based on lies, fear, threats, apathy, hatred, and the glorification of small-minded selfishness." The music, however, mostly focuses on the outcomes rather than the arising of such societal traits. Several pieces deal with the Holocaust and with the cultures it destroyed; the program includes the "Cabaret songs from Kamp!," a group of settings of texts written down by inmates of the Terezin concentration camp. But there are also pieces dealing with Irish revolutionaries (one, "Elégie," by Henri Duparc), the Spanish civil war, Australian aboriginal peoples, Chile's late dictatorship, and the American colossus. The last two of these draw on materials not conventionally associated with the classical repertory, and it is here that Quaife and accompanist Andrea Katz make their most distinctive contributions. Five rock and jazz songs are included: Randy Newman's satirical "Political Science" and chilling "In Germany before the War," Abel Meeropol's "Strange Fruit" (the signature song of Billie Holiday), Chilean Victor Jara's "Manifesto," and John Lennon's "Imagine." Each of these is treated slightly differently by the performers, with the straight-ahead pop rhythms of the Newman songs left alone, treated as a cousin to the cabaret song, while the other songs are given accompaniments that range from Schubertian to impressionist. It's a bit of a shock to hear "Imagine" in the version here, but the cumulative effect of the album is extremely moving; the protest is all the more effective because of the way it unites a variety of musical languages. Quaife sings directly, with clear enough enunciation that the lack of English-language texts isn't a problem (all songs in foreign languages have texts and translations). In all, this is a fearless performance that communicates more directly than most other song recitals.

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