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<<  -- 2 --  Malcolm Miller    AN INDIVIDUAL VOICE


The Songs from Emily Dickinson deal eloquently with universal themes of love, mortality and religion, setting eight poems by the American nineteenth century poet who inspired so many American composers including Aaron Copland. The soprano Vivienne Bellos projected the flowing melodies with resilience, her dialogue with the colourful ensemble of clarinet, David Kohn, violin, Serena Leader, cello, Judith Brearley, and piano, Carol Kohn, often lightened by dance-like delicacy and spiced with poignant dissonances. On this second hearing I was far more aware of Dawes's skill in conveying the varied moods of each poem through contrasts of tempi, mode and character.

Particularly moving was the second song, 'My life closed twice before its close' where a falling four-note string motif, later developed contrapuntally, is contrasted by a sustained clarinet pedal point and questioning pizzicato motif in the piano. The apparent innocence of chirpy rhythms in the fourth song 'There came a wind like a bugle' and sixth, 'Elysium' belied the deeper sense of expressive dislocation whereby the vocal line is set askew, and contrasted with the long breathed lines of the third song 'Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn', and the calm flowing lyricism of the fifth, 'As imperceptively as grief', where Dawes' characteristic polytonal chord formations added tension to the imagery of twilight and nature. These elements were even more evocatively combined in the especially atmospheric penultimate song, 'After a hundred years', where the mellifluous voice was enveloped by the piano's sustained octaves and fifths and string pizzicati. If in some instances there was a sense of metrical rigidity in contrast to the poetry's suppleness, in general the music was full of unexpected touches, such as the evocative solo singing in the last line of each of three stanzas in the final song, 'She rose to his requirement', which adds a ritual refrain that contrasts with the pervasive, zestful momentum of the ensemble.

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Copyright © 26 May 2004 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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