Directly after I posted a notice about the wonderful American art song recital by Randal Turner, I received an email from Glen Roven, the composer-conductor-pianist, thanking me for the review (Turner's recital included a group of Roven's songs), and asking if I'd be interested in hearing another recital, this time by Daniel Okulitch. I was happy to accept the offer, and found the CD in the mail straightaway…
Okulitch's recital is distinguished by having the composers collaborating with him in their songs, which is quite an advantage from the point of view of insight, and thankfully each of these composers does a splendid job at the keyboard. The participants are Ricky Ian Gordon, Jake Heggie, Lowell Liebermann, and of course Glen Roven (whose own GPR Records is the publisher of the disc).
Mr. Okulitch has a deep bass baritone voice that is luxuriantly rich and well controlled. He sings with great sensitivity to text and musical line, and communicates great joy in his performances. I listened twice – once through on headphones, the second time on loudspeakers – before sitting down to write this. I actually preferred listening on headphones. The booklet does not include texts; I found it was easier to understand the texts while listening on headphones, and the texts are so important in this genre. The booklet includes a paragraph by each of the composers discussing their philosophies of song-writing, which are very different — and yet the entire album is recognizably from a genre that seems to cut across composers. That's not to say that they blend together indistinguishably, as I actually found the transition from one to the next to be quite remarkable, but only to say that perhaps we have an "American art song school" of related work.
In any event, anybody interested in this genre has to hear this disc. Contents: "Quiet Lives" by Ricky Ian Gordon; "Of Gods and Cats" by Jake Heggie; "Songs from the Underground" by Glen Roven, and "Night Songs" by Lowell Liebermann. As a brief, effective encore, Jake Heggie's "Grow Old With Me." There is plenty of variety in mood and style, but also a great unity of artistic excellence here. No timings are listed on the booklet, which is sometimes a sign of short measure, but not in this case, as the recital runs over 71 minutes, but the variety is such that it is a pleasure to listen all the way through.
Unlike the Turner recital, recorded in concert, this is a studio job, and I slightly miss the sense of an unfolding concert with an audience that added to the pleasure in listening to Turner's recital. But I imagine that performing this program with four different pianists at one event would be logistically difficult to arrange. The voice is recorded at sufficient distance to provide warmth and avoid distortion, while slightly sacrificing presence from the piano.
I was a bit puzzled by the dating in the booklet. Although the entire release is copyrighted 2011, the dates given for recording were 8 days spread over the month of March 2001. Could that be a typo for 2010, or has this recital been sitting "in the can" for a decade before seeing daylight? I would guess a typo, since I can't imagine somebody sitting on such an excellent recital for so long. Perhaps Mr. Roven can enlighten us on that point.