Susanne Mentzer: "Letter to the World"
Songs by Carlisle Floyd. Loehnig and Ray, piano. GPR records GPR71313
World-premiere recordings of song cycles by Carlisle Floyd are expertly and lovingly detailed by mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer. With exemplary diction (how about "Simply Extinction's Date / Much Billow Hath the Sea / One Baltic"?), Mentzer's voice is in great shape, and her connection to the material and internalization of the poetry are complete.
Mentzer's singing is sincere and robust, and she manages extremes of range with technical expertise, bringing evenness and clarity to both highs and lows with smoothness and lyricism. She enjoys the often thorny poetry without ever over-intellectualizing. Tight miking, however, leaves no space around her, and the vocal sound is taut and dead. A bonus rehearsal track with the composer, recorded in a very live room, only emphasizes the unsatisfactory engineering of the CD.
Mentzer sang the premiere of Citizen of Paradise in 1983, as well as a later chamber-orchestra version. This monodrama, comprised of Emily Dickinson's letters and poems, is arranged into groups focusing on Friendship and Society; Love; Nature and Death; and Solitude. "Heart! We will forget him" finds the emotional narrator dealing with a stark and unfeeling accompaniment, while an icy chill characterizes death in "The dear mother." Spare octaves in the piano underline "There is a solitude of space," and throughout the cycle Mentzer and pianist Grant Loehnig capture the belligerence and vigor of Dickinson's words.
Loehnig again partners the mezzo in three early pieces that remain unpublished, including Floyd's first solo song-setting. Yeats's "When you are old and gray" represents the eighteen-year-old composer's crush on a singer acquaintance, and both artists bring out the romantic sweep of this song, as well as "I am a beggar on a lonely hill," to a text by Bernard Barrow, and Hart Crane's "Old Song."
Soul of Heaven (1992) extolls the power of music, gathering ten sophisticated texts, ranging from Aesop and Baldassare Castiglione through Shakespeare to Nietzsche and Spinoza. Pithy thirty-second aphorisms are tossed off with the same verbal acuity Mentzer brings to John Case's passionate "Skarlet is no colour to him" and Jeremy Collier's thoughtful "Have you not observed a Captain."
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