HARBACH 5: VOCAL MUSIC
Music of Barbara Harbach, Volume 5
Soprano, Winds, Strings, Harp, Trumpet & Piano
STELLA MARKOU, soprano
Kurt Baldwin, Donita Bauer, Paul Garritson, Thomas George, David Gillham, Barbara Harbach, Diana Haskell, Paul Hecht, Paula Kasica, Joanna Mendoza, Alla Voskoboynikova, Ayako Watanabe
World Premiere Recordings
"Stella Markou...has a clear and compact voice that often reminds me of a young Dawn Upshaw... The musicians and performances are excellent. I especially appreciated trumpeter Paul Hecht’s control and (yes) sweet tone in Emily!. "
Kilpatrick, American Record Guide - November/December 2010
"...this [CD] is wholly dedicated to vocal music, and shows a keen grasp for choosing texts that lend themselves to musical treatment and setting those texts with dramatic insight... Harbach’s strength is her sensitive method of molding melodic contours and rhythms to fit her text, and soprano Stella Markou matches her syllable for syllable with diction so clear the reproduction of the words in the booklet is almost superfluous... There is much to admire in this collection of vocal works, especially the choice of the text and her refusal to compromise the clarity of the messages behind the words... well integrated and idiomatic for instruments and voice alike... Markou steps into these very different roles with nervy gusto... Recommended."
Michael Cameron, Fanfare - November/December 2010
"...the songs run the gamut from concert Lieder to Broadway belt and blues... Light Out of Darkness is lyrical and sweet, well set, with the text nicely exegeted from Helen Keller’s own words..."
David Wolman, Fanfare - November/December 2010
"With a composer as diverse and prolific as Barbara Harbach, it's hard to know where to start. Vocal Music is only one of three Harbach albums to have come out recently (Chamber Music II and Toccatas, Flourishes & Fugues are the other two), and it would be oversimplifying to say that it's the "best" of the three. But by serving as an exhilaratingly lyrical vehicle for the exhilaratingly lyrical soprano Stella Markou, it presents a hitherto underexposed side of Harbach's prodigious compositional gifts in a most flattering light."
Arsenio Orteza, World Magazine - August 2010
RECORDING OF THE MONTH - MAY 2010
"So far, in MSR’s survey of the music of Barbara Harbach, vocal music has been conspicuously absent, an oddity, to say the least. After all, apart from the music recorded here, Harbach has written a musical, Booth! (concerning the brother of John Wilkes) which played in New York last summer, and an opera, O Pioneers!, based on the novel by Willa Cather, was given in St Louis last October. Unfortunately, although O Pioneers! was broadcast on KFUO St Louis - (which was available on the internet - if you missed it that was it.) It’s a fine work, which needs repeated hearings to really get into the piece, so one can only hope for a national broadcast at some time, and thus a worldwide audience could hear the work.
Until then, here are seven vocal works, which show the range of Harbach’s vision.
Abigail! - Harbach seems to favour the exclamation mark in the titles of her vocal works! - sets words from letters between Abigail Smith Adams and John Adams, the second President of the USA. Voice and harp make such a good combination, and here they are complemented by wind and strings – it’s a beautiful piece of vocal chamber music, well laid out for a small ensemble, colourful and understated.
Pleasure Flow, Tender Mist sets words by Jonathan Yordy – who wrote the libretti for both her musical Booth! and her opera – and they are eminently singable words – not always the case with contemporary verse. These are also very singable songs. Relaxed and tender, they would grace any recital.
Emily! sets words by Emily Dickinson and who would have thought that the combination of soprano, trumpet and piano would work so well together! Dickinson the mystic is here treated to music of ecstatic fervour which, due to the e trumpet, still has its feet on the ground, planted firmly in the real world. Harbach’s seeming simplicity – like Copland’s in his Dickinson settings – heightens the emotion and passion of the words. Perhaps the use of trumpet will militate against too many performances so we must be grateful for this recording.
Pioneer Women: From Skagway to White Mountain sets words from four women who “helped settle the wilds of Alaska”. This is the longest work on the disk and it’s more dramatic and visionary than the other pieces. But it’s not without a sense of fun. With clarinet added to voice and piano, it is a major addition to the repertoire for this combination of instruments.
The final three short pieces are delightful make–weights. Light Out of Darkness sets words by Helen Keller; it’s a simple, ecstatic chant. Cherish – Caress is a duet for voice and cello, setting more words by Yordy, which is a fine essay in how to write a really “singing” vocal line. The poem, however, is rather twee and somewhat cringe–making. Finally, Twenty–First Century Pioneer, is a blues, delivered in a lovely Southern style, with a down–home drawl. Great fun.
It says much for the strength of Harbach’s work that she has created vocal music which builds on the two great American composers for the voice – Ned Rorem, who has probably done more for vocal music in the past sixty years than anyone, and Aaron Copland, whose 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson might just be the greatest American composition for voice and piano – yet manages to find her own truly American sound. As I have said before, when I have had the great pleasure to report on the previous four CDs of her music, she has forged a voice which is all her own, yet speaks clearly in the American vernacular.
Don’t miss this disc for it is something very, very special. The performances are excellent, committed and vibrant – Stella Markou knows how to use her voice to best effect, and although rather limited in her range of vocal colour, she makes up for it in insight into the music – in excellent sound and with good notes in the booklet."
Bob Briggs, MusicWeb International - May 2010
Director of Vocal Studies at the University of Missouri St.Louis, soprano Stella Markou
has appeared as a featured soloist for numerous international and national performing venues, including the Heidelberg New Music Festival, International Computer Music Conference, SEAMUS, Electronic Music Midwest, NWEAMO, the Dance New Amsterdam Company, as well as the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ guest artist series. Her awards include first prize in the Doctoral Division of NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing), first prize in the Arizona Opera Guild Competition, and is the recipient of the prestigious Arizona Community Foundation/Piper Enrichment Grant.Ms. Markou has performed roles from Die Zauberflöte, The Turn of the Screw, The Mikado, The Telephone, and La Canterina. She made her Off-Broadway debut in 2009 in Booth! as Mary Devlin. She also performs regularly as a recitalist and has been featured in master classes with Shirley Emmons, Warren Jones, Cynthia Munzer and Bo Skovhus. A passionate performer and champion of contemporary music, Ms. Markou holds a Bachelors degree from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and a Masters degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music. She is currently completing her Doctoral studies at The University of Arizona. Her work can be found on the SEAMUS and MSR Classics record labels.
* * *
American composer, author and performer Barbara Harbach has a substantial musical catalog to her credit, including symphonies, musicals, choral anthems, film scores, ballets, arrangements for brass and organ of Baroque music as well as numerous works for chamber ensemble, string orchestra, organ, harpsichord and piano. She is heavily involved in the research, editing, publication and recording of manuscripts of 18th-century keyboard composers as well as historical and contemporary women composers. She is the editor of the journal, Women of Note Quarterly. Harbach initiated Women in the Arts-St. Louis, a celebration of the achievements of women creators. The over 800 events by various cultural organizations in the St. Louis region provided audiences with new and historical examples of the work of women writers, composers and artists. In 2006 for her work Women in the Arts-St. Louis she was the recipient of the Arts Education Award from the Missouri Arts Council: the Missouri Citizen for the Arts Award: the Yellow rose Award from the Zonta International Club of St. Louis; the UM-St. Louis College of Fine Arts and Communication, Faculty Excellence Award; and in 2007 she was awarded the Hellenic Spirit Foundation Award. In June 2009, her musical Booth! was premiered at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in New York City where it won a competition at the Tisch School of the Arts. Recordings of Barbara Harbach’s work are available on the MSR Classics, Naxos Records, Gasparo Records, Kingdom Records, Albany Records, Northeastern Records and Hester Park labels, and in published form from Robert King Music, Elkan-Vogel, Augsburg Fortress, Agape Music and Vivace Press publishers. Her lively performances and recordings have captured the imagination of many American composers, and the body of work written for and dedicated to her is substantial. [ www.BarbaraHarbach.com ]
ABIGAIL! for Soprano, Flute, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Bassoon, Harp, Violin, Viola & Cello (2007)
Remember the Ladies
My Heart is Light
PLEASURE FLOW, TENDER MIST for Soprano and Piano (2003)
In the Calm in the Cool
Pleasure is Flow
EMILY! for Soprano, E-flat Trumpet and Piano (2007)
I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed
If You Were Coming in the Fall
Wild Nights! Wild Nights!
LIGHT OUT OF DARKNESS for Soprano and Piano (2005)
CHERISH – CARESS for Soprano and Cello (2002)
PIONEER WOMEN: FROM SKAGWAY TO WHITE MOUNTAIN for Soprano, Clarinet & Piano (1994)
Catherine Van Curler
Gertrude Fergus Baker
TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY PIONEER for Soprano and Piano (2007)
Music for Violin, Cello and Organ
6 Concertos for Harpsichord (1783)