American Songs

American Songs

by Patrice Michaels



Soprano Patrice Michaels has been privileged to extend her artistry to an extraordinarily wide range of musical works in her long association with the Chicago-based Çedille Records label. Michaels has nurtured a special affinity for American art song since "early in [her] musical life," spurred on through her exposure to the work of Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim. Although she has already paid tribute to her one-time compositional mentor, Dominick Argento, on a disc entitled To Be Sung Upon the Water, Michaels gets to expand upon her knowledge and expertise in contemporary American song through a Çedille disc titled simply American Songs. One will not find the familiar Ives songs, nor Copland's "I Bought Me a Cat" here; every one of the 27 songs featured was written by composers who remain living at the time of the disc's release, ranging in age from past 80 (Dan Tucker) to not quite 50 (Richard Pearson Thomas). Many of the composers are based in the Chicago area. These songs date roughly from 1952 (two of the five Lee Hoiby songs) to 2002 (the vocalise "Light Feet" by John Harmon). One thing that surprises one right off the bat is how stylistically conservative most of them are compared to, say, art songs composed in Europe in this same time frame. Many of them utilize jazz-inflected harmonies, or major keys spiced with quartal/quintal substitutions in a sound familiar from art songs of the 1950s, exemplified by Hoiby and composers not featured here such as Samuel Barber and Ned Rorem. The poets, too, are mostly well-known names, including many whose work has been set to music before -- Millay, Whitman, Sandburg, and John Donne, for example. Although more dissonant than many of the song settings here, Libby Larsen's "Perineo" is perhaps the most old-fashioned in that its sound hearkens back most closely to early twentieth century American modernism; it is also one of the most energetic and compelling pieces on the disc. John Musto's cycle "Dove Sta Amore" is one of the more eagerly anticipated items here, as it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize; it, too, is a bit more challenging than the rest in terms of its style and harmonic color. One delightful surprise is how accomplished Dan Tucker's little cycle "Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames" is, consisting of pithy little settings in the manner of Poulenc, but even simpler in style. Tucker is a part-time composer whose full-time engagement is as an editor on the staff of the Chicago Tribune. Patrice Michaels' voice is a beautiful instrument, and she applies its beauty in equal measure to all of the songs featured here. The downside is that she doesn't offer a great deal in terms of characterization in the music she sings, but as this is such a long program built up out of so very many unfamiliar pieces, Michaels can be forgiven for not advocating for them in the way that, for example, Lotte Lehmann did for Schubert. Elizabeth Bucchieri's accompaniment is consistently good throughout, and she demonstrates a great deal of adaptability in approaching the varying styles of these composers. It would have been a slight improvement if Bucchieri's piano could have been mixed just a little louder in the recording.

Product Details

Release Date: 09/26/2006
Label: Cedille
UPC: 0735131909129
catalogNumber: 91


  1. An Immorality, for voice & piano
  2. What If. . . for voice & piano
  3. The Message, for voice & piano
  4. Shepherd, the
  5. In the Wand of the Wind, for voice & piano
  6. O del mio dolce ardor - A Reimagining, for voice & piano
  7. Branch By Branch, for voice & piano
  8. Homesick Blues, for voice & piano
  9. The Wider View, for voice & piano
  10. Who has seen the wind, for voice & piano
  11. Perineo, for voice & piano
  12. Ossessione, for voice, percussion & piano: Amarilli, mia bella
  13. Our Heart and Home is With Infinitude, for voice & piano: Beginning My Studies
  14. Dove Sta Amore, for voice & piano
  15. Lyrics (3) of Edna St. Vincent Millay, for voice & piano
  16. Mots d'Heures: Gousses, Rames, for voice & piano
  17. Bingo, for voice & piano
  18. Light Feet, for voice & piano

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