Donald Gramm / John McCollum / Mildred Miller / Eleanor Steber

Songs by 20th Century American Composers, Vol. 1 & 2

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Phoenix USA's two-disc set is a valuable document of the American art song in the early and mid- 20th century. A few selections are by composers like Copland, Ives, Barber, Thomson, and Rorem, who are still well-known, but the vast majority are by composers who flourished in the 1940s and '50s with varying degrees of magnitude, but who are performed much less frequently today (Vincent Persichetti, David Diamond, Irving Fine, Daniel Pinkham, Douglas Moore, Robert Ward, John Duke, Paul Bowles, Jack Beeson, Ben Weber, William Bergsma, Ernst Bacon, Otto Luening), and some who are almost entirely forgotten (Theodore Chanler, William Flanagan, John Edmunds, John Gruen [who has remained a popular biographer], John La Montaine). There are also a handful of songs by composers like Edward MacDowell, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, and John Alden Carpenter, whose heyday was decades earlier. All the songs are unabashedly lyrical; the most progressive is one of the earliest, Ives' General Booth Enters Into Heaven, from 1914. The four singers represented were ardent advocates of new American music of their time. Mezzo-soprano Mildred Miller, perhaps the least well known to contemporary audiences because of her small number of recordings, has a formidable voice that she deploys with great power and charismatic presence. Diamond's David Mourns for Absalom is not a profound song but Miller makes it a wrenching experience, and she brings a memorable intensity to everything she sings. Bass-baritone Donald Gramm's magisterial voice is thankfully better documented on recordings. He sounds marvelous in all the songs, but his performance of the Ives especially is a show-stopper, and Carpenter's Jazz Boys is wonderfully fresh. Bowles' Blue Mountain Ballads, to texts by Tennessee Williams, is a tremendously appealing set of songs. John McCollum's tenor is strong, but generally the repertoire he sings is among the least inherently interesting on the album. Eleanor Steber is not at her best here, either in tone quality or intonation, and her selections suffer from inferior, distant sound quality. The sound quality for the other singers is 1950s-'60s vintage, but adequate. Edwin Biltcliffe and Richard Cumming provide adept, sensitive accompaniment. The album, which contains many performances not available elsewhere, is a must-have for fans of modern American vocal music.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:00
2 1:09
3 1:41
4 2:25
5 2:42
6 1:47
7 1:23
8 2:46
9 2:27
10 3:51
11 5:03
12 2:38
13 3:06
14 2:21
15 1:20
16 1:40
17 1:49
18 2:05
19 2:19
20 2:41
21 1:12

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:45
2 1:16
3 1:23
4 0:58
5 1:29
6 4:38
7 2:35
8 2:58
9 3:49
10 2:11
11 1:56
12 2:41
13 1:58
14 1:42
15 3:09
16 4:05
17 1:15
18 2:12
19 0:59
20 2:35
21 4:22
22 3:12
blue highlight denotes track pick