Getty: The Little Match Girl
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GETTY: The Little Match Girl

CD Button Moore; Schukoff, Lynch; Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Fisch, Schirmer. English texts. Pentatone PTC 5186 480

Recordings Match Girl Cover 216
Critics Choice Button 1015 

IN GORDON GETTY'S Little Match Girl, which he adapted from H. B. Paull’s English translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s famous tale, the composer uses a full chorus and orchestra to narrate the heartbreaking yet transcendent story, with earnest, declamatory vocal settings and striking instrumental illustrations. He seems particularly inspired by nature; one of the most arresting passages is “They had only the roof to cover them, through which the wind blew.” “Then she saw a star fall, leaving behind it a bright streak of fire” provides another scintillating musical depiction. He’s also particularly inventive as the little girl strikes a succession of matches: the orchestra springs to life with each flame, as images of home, hearth and food explode into view. The girl’s old grandmother, “clear and shining,” appears amid pealing brass instruments. When they fly together to a place above the Earth “where there was neither cold nor hunger nor pain,” it’s soothing, then marvelously celebratory on “they were with God.” Getty’s musical language is predominantly conservative, but he dramatizes all of this powerfully and directly, without cliché. The Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks isn’t always intelligible, but they sing with good pitch and rhythmic precision. 

Getty also derives considerable musical inspiration from nature in A Prayer for My Daughter (one of several other works on this disc),which begins with a vigorous instrumental storm, shortly followed by the full chorus intoning the vivid opening lines of W. B. Yeats’s poem of the same name. Getty’s setting is full of abrupt contrasts, bright orchestral colors and a skillful sense of the visceral drama inherent in the poem’s powerful, eloquently expressed parental feelings. 

Poor Peter is an appealing cycle of three songs for tenor, chorus and orchestra, set in the mythical Middle Ages. The haunting, minstrel-like “Where is My Lady?” is taken from Getty’s opera Usher House, inspired by Poe. “Tune the Fiddle” is a rousing, fiery two-step, and “Ballad of Poor Peter” is melodic and melancholic, with an original text by Getty inspired by Yeats. All three are evocative of a bygone era but laced with contemporary touches. Nikolai Schukoff’s earnest, opulent tenor is well-suited to these expressive, vocally sympathetic songs.

The disc concludes with Getty’s engrossing, well-wrought cantata Joan and the Bells, which relates the Joan of Arc story by way of Shaw (Saint Joan) and Jean Anouilh (The Lark). (There’s an earlier recording from 2003, also on the Pentatone label, with different personnel.) Melody Moore’s ringing, charismatic soprano brings Joan compellingly to life, and baritone Lester Lynch’s voice resonates with menace. The chorus does some particularly rousing work here, and the Münchner Rundfunkorchester blazes under Ulf Schirmer. Asher Fisch skillfully conducts the other three works.  —Joshua Rosenblum 

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