Vocal and Chamber Works Naxos 8.559198
- Composer: Virgil Thomson
- Lyricist(s): Thomas Campion, Marianne Moore, Virgil Thomson
- Ensemble: Continuum
- Artist(s): Rachel Evans, Alyssa Hess, David Krakauer, Ellen Lang, Joel Sachs, Cheryl Seltzer, Mia Wu
Virgil Thomson was born in Kansas City, Missouri, but spent much of the 1920s and 1930s in Paris, where his circle included such artistic giants as James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, especially Gertrude Stein, with whom he formed a legendary friendship. Much of Thomson's early music, which comprises settings of Stein's poetry and the Synthetic Waltzes, balances modernity and classicism; his Sonata for Violin and Piano is informed bu the spirit of neo-romanticism that later spread in Paris. Yet all along his style also manifested truly ‘American’ qualities. Returning to the U.S. in 1940, he became the influential music critic of the New York Herald Tribune. His later compositions bursting with lyricism, include his glorious settings of Thomas Campion's poetry and the two contrasting vocal works of 1963, Praises and Prayers and Two by Marianne Moore.
Vocal and Chamber Works Review
How wonderful it is that Naxos is conducting such a creative – whimsical, almost – survey of American music. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has participated in this series, with music of Griffes, Converse and others, and it's fascinating, how very different the various discs in the series are. The New York-based new music group Continuum poses like something out of Vogue magazine: smiling widely, clad in red. There's nothing superficial, though, about their approach to this graceful music by Virgil Thomson. Thomson was a fiery music critic, a boldly experimental artist, close friends with Gertrude Stein and a big fan of Parisian bohemian life. His songs, though, reveal a gentle and respectful soul and deep feelings for the Midwestern America where he grew up. Mezzo-soprano Ellen Lang takes an unsentimental approach to the Thomas Campion poems; the sensitive “There is a Garden in Her Face,” with its arch echoes of the phrase “Cherry-ripe,” is especially enchanting. It's fun to listen to Thomson play with the sheer sound of words, as he does with the witty Marianne Moore settings; the spare piano accompaniment seems inspired by the rhythm of the voice. And I know, Thomson wasn't religious, but his religious songs, like “Canticle of the Sun” and “Before Sleeping,” again shine light on what must have been a generous, deep-feeling soul. Altogether, this is an illuminating glimpse of the reflective side of a great spirit of American music. May Kunz Goldman – The Buffalo News