Copper's Lovelife Dances were written in 2001 and have, understandably, proved popular with American choirs. Copper writes in an approachable, tonal idiom. Though he does not say so in his notes, the format of the work (chorus and piano duet accompaniment) and the title indicate a response to Brahms's Liebeslieder Walzer -- except of course the Brahms is not strictly a choral work. Copper sets an attractive group of English poets (Chaucer, John Skelton, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Thomas Wyatt, George Gascoigne, William Barley, Tennyson, Shelley, Samuel Rogers, James Merrill, John Donne and William Wordsworth) and the poems are intended to 'give a playful summary of life's loves, though many of them seem chosen to illustrate life's loves' limits -- and its lessons'. The composer's programme note goes on to warn us that the opening bar, though firmly in E flat major has passing references to E natural. So when putting the disc on, I was not too surprised by the 'wrong note' nature of the piano accompaniment
[listen -- track 1, 0:00-1:17].
Copper's style consists of a firmly tonal framework into which rogue elements of chromaticism, wrong notes (in tonal terms), bitonality are mixed in a rather naïve manner. The result has a clear style and the construction is far from naïve. The chorus are given grateful tuneful material
[listen -- track 9, 1:02-2:02]
and some songs are unashamedly romantic in a Broadway show-song manner; some of the material reminded me of the songs and arrangements sung by the New York City Gay Mens Chorus -- well made, tuneful, pleasant, effective, fun to sing but ultimately undemanding of the listener.
Unfortunately the choral part on this disc sounds very odd indeed, as if a choir, recorded singing in an obscure Polynesian language (with lots of vowels and few consonants) and the recording then processed in a misguided attempt to add extra reverberation. Turning to the back of the booklet, all is made clear. The 'choir' and the 'piano' are sampled sounds. The composer has laboriously sequenced choral sounds with the requisite vowel sounds. The process seems to have taken him two years. The results are mixed. Given a score of the work, this disc would give you a very clear idea about whether you want to perform the work with your choir. But for the casual listener, the recording is difficult. Without a score you get no idea of the relation of music to text. And the choral part suffers from problems that will be familiar to anyone who has tried working with sampled choral sounds; there are any number of aural effects which prove very annoying.
If you are interested in contemporary American music then do try this disc, but get a copy of the score to follow it with. For the rest of us, let us hope that the works generous performance history leads to a real recording.