Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins has a pleasant, chamber-sized sound, and he's competently accompanied on the piano by Jerad Mosbey. But the genius shown here is not in the singing but in the selection; Hopkins picks four works, none really well known, and puts them together in a delightful program loosely linked by themes of nature and wandering. The real find is the set of Blue Mountain Ballads by Paul Bowles, better known as a fiction writer. Written in 1946 to poems by Tennessee Williams, these four little humorous portraits would fit perfectly on a program with Copland's Old American Songs. They're accessible but far from unsubtle; sample the quite profound use of ragtime to suggest the inner defiance of the lonesome man in the song by that name, track 19. Ralph Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel were written to a group of late, posthumously published poems of Robert Louis Stevenson. This early work has hints of the composer's pastoral style, and the simple rhyme schemes of Stevenson's lines ("Bright is the ring of words/When the right man rings them") virtually call out for musical setting. The style of Canadian composer Srul Irving Gluck is conservatively impressionistic, but the texts by Richard Outram are quite varied; Gluck elegantly adapts his style to, for instance, a poem with very short lines about a chipmunk. The serious Three Songs, Op. 45, of Samuel Barber come from late in the composer's life; they retain but darken his characteristic melodic idiom. This is an immensely satisfying program with a real find in the Bowles songs, which Hopkins sings in a diction style resembling African American spirituals, not absolutely true to Williams, but close enough to what Bowles, a New Yorker, probably had in mind. Notes are in English and French, but the song texts are given in English only.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Songs of Travel|
|South of North - Images of Canada|
|Blue Mountain Ballads|
|Three Songs, Op. 45|