Various Artists

Peter Scott Lewis: The Four Cycles

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The Four Cycles in this release on the Naxos label's fine American Classics series are song cycles in the classic sense, unified by a common poetic thread and musical structure. One even feels that San Francisco composer Peter Scott Lewis has the Romantic Lied tradition in mind with his lengthy introductions that set forth mood, concept, and pitch inventory for most of the songs. This said, the four cycles differ substantially from one another, with vocabulary ranging from nearly conventional tonality in the brief, guitar-accompanied Three Songs from Ish River to substantially irregular chords and rhythms in the opening Where the Heart Is Pure. Two are for vocal quartet, not solo voice, and perhaps the Five Love Motets (2014), with texts by Lewis himself, work the best here: they are less motets than madrigals, with the texture fitting the texts effectively. The New York Virtuoso Singers Quartet also catches the informal language of Lawrence Ferlinghetti in The Changing Light (2013). Sample one from this cycle to get the considerable subtlety in Lewis' pictorial text setting, but it's in evidence throughout, and it lends the music substantial appeal. The vocalists in the solo songs are perhaps a bit heavy for the material, but these are songs that contemporary singers should get to know; they could enliven any recital.

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