Various Artists

The Flowering of Vocal Music in America: 1767-1823

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This generous and intriguing two-CD set presents the various styles and influences on a national classic style at the beginning of the United States. The Moravian community is very well represented through the works of five composers (J. Dencke, G.G. Müller, D.M. Michael, J.F. Peter, J. Herbst), in songs played by string orchestra (conducted here by Andrew Raeburn) and solo vocals. Especially notable is the J.C. Bach-influenced Mein Heiland Geht ins Leiden (My Savior goes in sorrow) by George Gottfried Müller, beautifully interpreted by tenor Charles Bressler. These songs, and the two by O. Shaw and G.K. Jackson, show the direct influences of Handel, Mozart and Bach's sons. The first real surprise is the still avant-garde song Philanthrophy (1823), by the ever-controversial Anthony Philip Heinrich. This vocal quintet is one of Heinrich's most wonderfully outrageous compositions. The piano introductions are somewhat like a combination of Franz Liszt and Charles Ives. Each verse is built on a bold hymn, extremely florid countrapuntal cadenzas, and the hymn repeated in highly dissonant harmonization. One can hardly imagine what Heinrich's contemporaries thought of this music. The next surprise is Benjamin Carr's The Lady of the Lake (1810), based on a narrative poem by Sir Walter Scott. This song cycle sets six ballads: Mary; Soldier, Rest!; Hymn to the Virgin (the same Ave Maria text set by Schubert); Blanche of Devan, slightly more adventurous harmonically as a classic "mad song"; Coronach is a showcase lament about the soul's disappearance. The musical style of this cycle is expressive, but deliberately kept simple to appeal to the audience, who at that time had little exposure to the more advanced Continental styles; to modern ears, the songs retain a charming archaic quality.

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