Lori Laitman: Becoming a Redwood

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Albany Records has assembled a large and stellar group of singers and instrumentalists for its third CD of songs by Lori Laitman, and each song or song cycle features different performers. Laitman has excellent literary taste, and the texts she chooses, by Mary Oliver, Paul Muldoon, Thomas Lux, as well as several less well-known poets, are extraordinarily fine. The texts, however, with a few exceptions, are melancholy or nostalgic, and that sameness of tone is reflected in the music. Laitman's songs, which are sometimes reminiscent of Barber, Duke, or Rorem, are consistently lyrical, and she writes gratefully for the voice. Her text setting is always good, and each discrete musical moment effectively mirrors the corresponding poetic moment, but the underlying musical structure more often than not lacks the personality and inexorability that allow a song to make a poem blossom with fresh and deepened meaning. The exceptions -- songs that have a strong and distinctive character, such as Dana Gioia's "Being Happy," Lux's "This Space Available," and Paul Muldoon's "The Ancestor," -- tend to be the faster pieces. The primary impression the CD leaves is one of pleasant, lyrical, but unmemorable songs whose consistency of idiom and lack of strong personality make them more interesting as vocal showcases than as compositions. The performers all sing or play with conviction and energy, but soprano Jennifer Check, mezzo-soprano Patricia Green, baritones William Sharp and Lee Poulis, and bass Gary Poster are standouts.

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