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Chamber Music


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Product Details

  • Performer: Sherman Chicago Chamber Musicians
  • Composer: Harbison
  • Audio CD (Sept. 26 2006)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nam
  • ASIN: B000H4VZBC
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #291,613 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. I. Ballad For Billie - Michael Henoch
2. II. Late Air - Michael Henoch
3. III. Breakfast Song - Michael Henoch
4. I. Ballad For Billie (II) - Michael Henoch
5. II. Song - Michael Henoch
6. III. 'Dear, My Compass...' - Michael Henoch
7. I. Bingham - Joseph Genualdi
8. II. Eakins - Joseph Genualdi
9. III. Heade - Joseph Genualdi
10. IV. Homer - Joseph Genualdi
11. V. HOffman - Joseph Genualdi
12. VI. Diebenkorn - Joseph Genualdi
13. Prelude - Craig Knox
14. II. - Craig Knox
15. III. - Craig Knox
16. IV. - Craig Knox
17. V. - Craig Knox
18. VI. - Craig Knox
19. VII. - Craig Knox
20. Postlude - Craig Knox
See all 25 tracks on this disc

Product Description

Born in 1938 into a musical family, John Harbison studied at Harvard, and with Roger Sessions at Princeton. He is one of America's most accomplished musicians, with four symphonies, three operas and a Pulitzer Prize-winning cantata to his credit. Harbison

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By J Scott Morrison TOP 1000 REVIEWER on Nov. 4 2006
Format: Audio CD
Because it is sung magically by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson who died only a few months ago, the most welcome work on this CD, for sentimental reasons, is 'North and South'(1999), a cycle of six songs set to poems of Elizabeth Bishop. Two of them are the 'Ballads for Billie' (Billie Holiday) taken from Bishop's 'Four Songs for a Colored Singer' and if ever there was someone in the classical music world who could set these texts it is John Harbison who is able to distill the bluesy feeling of the texts into his own colorful style. 'North and South' is set for mezzo soprano, English horn, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, double bass. One simply couldn't ask for better performances from the Chicago Chamber Musicians, a group comprised of some of Chicago's finest players. Just listen to Larry Combs's clarinet and Joe Genualdi's violin, for instance. And then there is Hunt Lieberson. She has the rich and confiding voice needed precisely for Bishop's colloquial and intimate texts, and a sultry, bluesy manner exactly right for the two Billie songs. Like the equally talented and beloved Jan DeGaetani before her, she was taken from us far too soon.

The Bishop songs are followed by 'Six American Painters' (2002) set for flute, violin, viola and cello. The six painters, each given a two minute 'portrait' by Harbison, are George Caleb Bingham, Thomas Eakins, Martin Johnson Heade, Winslow Homer, Hans Hofmann, and Richard Diebenkorn, a group that spans almost two hundred years of American painting. Flutist Mathieu Dufour (principal of the Chicago Symphony) is simply magnificent here.

'The Three Wise Men' is for narrator and brass quintet (two trumpets, horn, trombone, tuba) and tells the story of Christ's birth with words from the Gospel of Matthew.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sings of Billie Holiday March 7 2007
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The highlight of this CD is the singing by the late, beloved mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (1954 -2006) in John Harbison's "North and South: Six Poems of Elizabeth Bishop". Ms. Lieberson was awarded a posthumous Grammy in 2007 for her performance of her husband's "Rilke Songs" accompanied by pianist Peter Serkin. This CD offers the opportunity to hear her in the works of another leading American composer, John Harbison. Shortly before her death, Harbison said of Ms. Lieberson that "She gives so much of her inner soul, that that's what she owes the public."

Harbison (b. 1938) writes in a variety of genres. He is best-known for larger-scale works, including operas, symphonies and choral pieces, and he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for his "The Flight into Egypt." Harbison's recent music is tonal, tightly constructed, and lucid. Earlier in his career, he frequently used atonality.

This CD of Harbison's chamber music includes four short works with Ms. Lieberson's voice gracing only the opening selection. Harbison's "North and South" consists of two books of three poems set for singer and an accompaning septet of English horn, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, and double bass. Each set of three opens with a poem titled "Ballad for Billie." Ms Lieberson accentuates the blusey feel of these works as in the first she moans Bishop's line "LeRoy just how much are we owing" to which LeRoy responds "Darling, when I earns I spends." In the second, Billie observes, as her lover goes from worman to woman, "The time has come to call a halt ... I'm going to go and take the bus/ and find someone monogamous."

In an article in the New Yorker written after her death, Alex Ross stated that Ms. Lieberson "broke through the facade of cool professionalism that too often prevails in the classical world, showing the kind of unchecked fervor that is more often associated with the greatest pop, jazz and gospel singers. She was often compared to Maria Callas, but she might have been a shade closer to Mahalia Jackson." Ross' observations describe well Ms. Lieberson's performances of the "Ballads for Billie" as well as for the four other settings of intimate poetry by Elizabeth Bishop that constitute this cycle.

I found most of the rest of this CD somewhat cool, detached, and anticlimactic. The best of it, I think, was Harbison's setting of four poems of Goethe, together with an instrumental interlude, in a 1975 work titled "Book of Hours and Seasons" performed by Mezzo-soprano Emily Lodine to the accompaniment of flute, cello, and piano. This music is more complex and harmonically challenging than that of the remaining works on the CD, and I got involved with it, particularly with the final song "Um Mitternacht". I enjoyed Ms. Lodine's singing.

Harbison's 2002 composition "Six American Painters" is an instrumental work for flute, violin, viola, and cello consisting of six short impressions of Bingham, Eakins, Heade, Homer, Hoffman, and Diebenkorn. The flute has the lead in most of this work, and the playing is, indeed, impeccable. But I found the music uncharacterized and remote and was mostly left unmoved. The work didn't differentiate for me the styles of the different artists it was intended to celebrate.

The final work on the CD in "The Three Wise Men" written in 1988 and premiered on television in that year. The work consists of a spoken narrative from the Gospel of Matthew together with a brass chorale in which the tuba gets a great deal of attention. As a celebratory, public piece, this work is fine for what it is. But I found it came across blandly on a recording, even though it was well performed.

I was glad to have the opportunity to hear John Harbison's work in intimate settings. But the major attraction of this CD is overwhelmingly the singing of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and secondarily the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop.

Robin Friedman
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Harbison's Hypnotic Chamber Music Nov. 4 2006
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Because it is sung magically by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson who died only a few months ago, the most welcome work on this CD, for sentimental reasons, is 'North and South'(1999), a cycle of six songs set to poems of Elizabeth Bishop. Two of them are the 'Ballads for Billie' (Billie Holiday) taken from Bishop's 'Four Songs for a Colored Singer' and if ever there was someone in the classical music world who could set these texts it is John Harbison who is able to distill the bluesy feeling of the texts into his own colorful style. 'North and South' is set for mezzo soprano, English horn, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, double bass. One simply couldn't ask for better performances from the Chicago Chamber Musicians, a group comprised of some of Chicago's finest players. Just listen to Larry Combs's clarinet and Joe Genualdi's violin, for instance. And then there is Hunt Lieberson. She has the rich and confiding voice needed precisely for Bishop's colloquial and intimate texts, and a sultry, bluesy manner exactly right for the two Billie songs. Like the equally talented and beloved Jan DeGaetani before her, she was taken from us far too soon.

The Bishop songs are followed by 'Six American Painters' (2002) set for flute, violin, viola and cello. The six painters, each given a two minute 'portrait' by Harbison, are George Caleb Bingham, Thomas Eakins, Martin Johnson Heade, Winslow Homer, Hans Hofmann, and Richard Diebenkorn, a group that spans almost two hundred years of American painting. Flutist Mathieu Dufour (principal of the Chicago Symphony) is simply magnificent here.

'The Three Wise Men' is for narrator and brass quintet (two trumpets, horn, trombone, tuba) and tells the story of Christ's birth with words from the Gospel of Matthew. Television journalist Bill Kurtis is the narrator. Each section is introduced by his narration and then followed by what Harbison calls 'an engraving' for brass. Particularly nice (and idiomatically written by Harbison) is the tuba part played by Craig Knox, now principal of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

'Book of Hours and Seasons' is a setting of four Goethe poems for mezzo, flute, cello and piano. There is a neat central instrumental interlude featuring Dufour's alto flute. The singer is Emily Lodine whose tremulous voice does not stand close comparison with that of Hunt Lieberson. I'm not clear what led Harbison to write these songs. The Goethe texts do not say much to me, but perhaps that is my own inadequacy. The final song 'Um Mitternacht' is easily the most effective but it does seem odd that it is set for mezzo when the narrator of the poem is a man.

By all means I would recommend this issue if primarily for the opportunity to hear Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sing in the glorious first set of songs. Almost as recommendable is the instrumental 'Six American Painters.' 'The Three Wise Men' is slight but effective. And I'm sure there are those who would find 'Book of Hours and Seasons' more effective than I.

Scott Morrison
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Gorgeous Historic Recording of a Song Cycle Aug. 23 2009
By indypoet - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Like the other reviewers here, I agree that the true contribution of this cd to the chamber music of the last 50 years is the song cycle of Elizabeth Bishop poems sung by Ms. Liebrson. I will long put those six tracks on repeat to encounter the lyricism of her voice and Mr. Harbison's cool and apt interpretations of Bishop's tone and imagery in some of her most memorable poems. The rest of the cd has some interesting compositional moments and counterpoint between text, sometimes spoken, and chamber musicians. But with all of the great pieces commenting on the Nativity story, I find "The Three Wise Men" somewhat tedious and too straightforward. Not only is the writing for brass chorale a little stale, but I'm not sure how this adds anything to or re-imagines this well-known narrative. Sadly, I find myself skipping those tracks when I listen to the cd as a whole. I think the concept and form of these pieces is truly imaginative, and I love intersections of classical music and other art forms, particularly poetry and painting. This will be an excellent resource for my literature classroom.


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