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"An AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing for Hope"

spacer Songs by twenty composers. Barton, Cabell, Cooke, Danrich, DiDonato, Leonard, Moore, Phillips, Yunus, Zamora; Griffey, Lynch, Okulitch, Panikkar, Phares, Polenzani, Scarlata, Slattery, Stewart. With Ma, cello, McGill, clarinet, and various pianists. GPR Records GPR12014

Recordings Sing for Hope Cover 415

Conceived in 1992 by HIV-positive baritone Will Parker, the AIDS Quilt Songbook featured American art-song responses to the epidemic, a sonic counterpart to the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Parker died in 1993, and the songbook has expanded with new collaborations, publications, performances and recordings, embracing a wide range of perspectives on grief, loss and hope in honor of the individuals lost and the communities devastated by AIDS.

The newest incarnation features nineteen  singers in American songs both old and new, along with ten pianists, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, clarinetist Anthony McGill and actors Sharon Stone and Ansel Elgort. These and countless other artists donated their talent to the project, and all proceeds from CD sales go to amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. Sing for Hope co-founders Monica Yunus and Camille Zamora are featured performers on the recording.

Powerful moments include mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and pianist John Musto voicing Musto’s now-iconic anthem “Litany,” on a short poem by Langston Hughes (“Gather up / In the arms of your pity / The sick, the depraved, the desperate, the tired, / All the scum of our weary city”) and Jamie Barton’s stupendous yet easy-going delivery of Eric Reda’s 2008 “Atripla!” Ken Merrill is the superb pianist for this virtuosic setting of a pharmaceutical pamphlet and Barton’s rich voice, wondrous high notes and immaculate diction detail a hilarious — and at the same time horrifying — list of the drug’s side effects.

Excellent pieces from the 2012 songbook include Fred Hersch’s “Ordinary,” on a powerful text by Herschel Garfein. Tenor Michael Slattery, always sensitive to text and a performer with a wonderful, unaffected delivery, uses his lovely, sweet sound to detail “a pharmaceutical rosary” that culminates in the simple wish to “die in some ordinary way.” Drew Hemenger’s “Her Final Show” is another strong song, and Anthony Dean Griffey is heavily invested in the emotions of physician Rafael Campo’s touching poem in which caregivers offer dignity to a dying drag queen. Susanna Phillips brings her voluptuous sound and gleaming high notes to Gilda Lyons’s effective setting of the ritualistic Pueblo Indian Prayer, “Hold On.”

“Let it go,” from the 1995 songbook, features soprano Adrienne Danrich, who brings a sensual timbre and dramatic truth to composer Carol Barnett’s hovering vocal line, while the excellent Thomas Bagwell paints a dreamy, impressionistic piano part, climaxing in poet Michael Estok’s defiant cry, “Let music deafen us!” 

The newly commissioned works are particularly challenging in their effect. “Zero Plus Anything” is a difficult, fragmented song by Tania León and Jane Hirshfield, featuring the attractive voice of Keith Phares. Daniel Okulitch brings out the irony and sadness of Glen Roven’s “Retro,” a harsh, confrontational piece set to Gavin Geoffrey Dillard’s words, while Melody Moore’s earnest delivery and lovely, lyrical sound sell Gregg Kallor and Sara Cooper’s “One Child.” Scott Gendel and Wendell Berry’s “At Last” was newly arranged for this album, and Yo-Yo Ma, Gendel and soprano Zamora offer a luminous, transcendently lyrical performance that closes the recital.

The program booklet brings into vivid focus, like the quilt’s many patches, a few individuals lost to AIDS, while photos and commentary detail some of the important issues — particularly the education of sex workers in Africa and compassion towards transgender communities — as well as recent victories in the ongoing fight. spacer 

JUDITH MALAFRONTE

 

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