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Copland: Quiet City Suite – Barber: Summer of 1915 – Gershwin: Summertime

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Live recording
Orchestra of the Swan / David Curtis
April Fredrick, Soprano

This new CD showcases the spectacular voice of American Soprano April Fredrick whose star is now firmly in the ascendant. SOMM first heard her in concert singing the songs of Ivor Gurney which she had studied closely as part of her MMus in Vocal Performance at the Royal Academy of Music. SOMM unhesitatingly recommended April to David Curtis, conductor of the Orchestra of the Swan who having heard her, enthusiastically engaged her for several of his concerts. This recording, which took place during a concert at the Civic Hall in Stratford in May last year, is her debut with the Orchestra of the Swan conducted by David Curtis.

The recording includes a performance of Barber’s Knoxville, a work about the power of memory, tinged with loss and great affection. In her essay on the work, April says: ‘A Death in the Family, by James Agee, for which ‘Knoxville’ was the opening essay, revolves around the death of James Agee’s father when he was six. Agee wrote frequently about his father, so much so, that his father’s death has been called ‘the pivot around which his life evolved’.

When Samuel Barber read ‘Knoxville’ he was struck firstly by the beauty of the text but also by the many similarities between his and Agee’s background. “The text”, he wrote to his uncle, “reminded me so much of summer evenings in West Chester, now very far away, and all of you are in it… I found out, after setting this, that Mr. Agee and I are the same age, and the year he described was 1915, when we were both five. You see, it expresses a child’s feeling of loneliness, wonder, and lack of identity in that marginal world between twilight and sleep...” ‘

Aaron Copland’s Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson arranged from the original Twelve Poems can be traced back to 1949 when Copland began work on a setting of Emily Dickinson’s celebrated poem “The Chariot”. This provided the impetus for the
composition of another three songs, then six. By March 1950 he had composed twelve and eventually arranged some of the songs for chamber orchestra. By 1970 he had orchestrated eight, and they were published as a free-standing set under their new title Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson.

The poems themselves gave me direction, one that I hoped would be appropriate to Miss Dickinson’s lyrical expressive language”, said Copland. The cycle includes contemplative poems, such as “Nature, the Gentlest Mother” and “Heart, we will forget him!” as well as starker ones such as “The Chariot”.

Also included on this CD as part of the Orchestra of the Swan’s concert is Copland’s Quiet City which was initially the title of a drama by Irwin Shaw to which Copland provided incidental music in 1939. In September 1940 he fashioned the music into a single-movement, an expressive short nocturne for small orchestra.

Barber’s Capricorn Concerto which marked a new departure for him, is scored for flute, oboe, trumpet and strings and may have been inspired by Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto — also very similar to Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks concerto in the Baroque style.

The CD ends with one of Gershwin’s unforgettable melodies, ‘Summertime’, from the Opera Porgy and Bess. It’s a haunting lullaby in a gently lilting rhythm, sung by Clara to her baby. It’s beguilingly sung here by April Fredrick.

On This Recording

  1. Quiet City: Quiet City Suite
  2. Knoxville: Summer of 1915: Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24
  3. Capricorn Concerto: I. Allegro ma non troppo
  4. Capricorn Concerto: II. Allegretto
  5. Capricorn Concerto: III. Allegro con brio
  6. 8 Poems of Emily Dickinson: No. 1. Nature, the gentlest mother
  7. 8 Poems of Emily Dickinson: No. 2. There came a wind like a bugle
  8. 8 Poems of Emily Dickinson: No. 3. The world feels dusty
  9. 8 Poems of Emily Dickinson: No. 4. Heart, we will forget him
  10. 8 Poems of Emily Dickinson: No. 5. Dear March, come in!
  11. 8 Poems of Emily Dickinson: No. 6. Sleep is supposed to be
  12. 8 Poems of Emily Dickinson: No. 7. Going to Heaven!
  13. 8 Poems of Emily Dickinson: No. 8. The Chariot
  14. Porgy and Bess: Porgy and Bess, Act I: Summertime