John Plant, composer

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Vocal Works in Eight Languages


This CD features four major works; three of them feature Ensemble Prima, conducted by Mélanie Léonard, now Associate Conductor with the Calgary Philharmonic. All of the works are performed by mezzo-soprano Jocelyne Fleury. Romance sonámbulo is a setting of one of Lorca's gypsy ballads; 'in the world of zero, ' a setting of Rika Lesser's sensitive translation of a poem by Göran Sonnevi, is about the crisis and rebirth which occur when one is ready to make a connection, to love. La notte bella, based on Ungaretti,s poem written in the trenches during World War I, traces the mysterious emergence of joy out of the stagnation of despair. 'Babel is a blessing' sets eight songs in eight different languages, ranging from the Latin of Catullus to the English of D.H. Lawrence. Here are two critical comments; further reviews may be found in the Review section. Includes booklet with texts, translations and notes.

.... This reveals a major talent that deserves to crop up in international recitals... 2001’s La notte bella is a fascinating setting of Giuseppe Ungaretti, scored for piano, violin, and cello. The sparse text...  is set to soaring melodic lines before the strings turn this soulful piece into something more shivery and frenzied. Plant gives himself a bigger canvas for Romance sonámbulo , a 20-minute semi-cantata, set to one of Lorca’s Gypsy ballads. With the mournful, funeral brass writing,sparing use of Sprechgesang, and fretful tension conveyed in the strings, Lorca’s bleak, unsettling tale of a smuggler returning to find hislover dead is masterfully told. ...Loud atonal clusters open the chilling 'In the world of zero' ... (Plant) is that rarest of modern composers,someone who writes sympathetically for the voice. His word setting is similarly impeccable ...This must not just stay in the Canadian music scene.

            Barnaby Rayfield, Fanfare , January/February 2011

With a regard for language that is purely metaphysical and a skill in handling words musicallywhich is uniquely his own, John Plant has selected music he has written in memoriam. It is an inspiring sampling of music... The music shares a predilection for crystalline textures and harmonies that space out briefly before trailing wistfully away. Yet each eventually attaches itself to the poetry and takes on an asymmetrical emotional life and a faint cultural accent, perhaps mythical. At the end, "In theworld of zero," Plant's sad resignation finally gives way to rage punctuated with violent drum beats and elusive woodwind accents..'

       0;      -Laurence Vittes, Gramophone , July 2010

“The surprise is how good these pieces are. The scena, the extended, dramatic vocal aria in particular puts up obstacles in a composer's way. It can easily degenerate into mere musical meandering, mainly because unlike more contained and explicit song-poetry, it forces a composer to invent a musical structure. Many writers go the "easy" route of responding in the moment. The results tend to natter. On the other hand, the usual composing strategies tend to make hash of the narrative flow of a poem. The composer has the task of shaping a coherent musical structure to that narrative. It seems that only the really great vocal composers bring it off: Brahms, Mahler, Wagner, Strauss, Stravinsky, Mussorgsky, Vaughan Williams, Debussy, Fauré, Britten, Barber, and so on. Plant succeeds in every item here… Plant's literary taste is not only impeccable, but shows a fellow who reads widely and deeply… If I had to compare him to another composer, I'd say Barber, especially the Barber of the extended vocal works: Dover Beach, Knoxville, and Andromache's Farewell. There's that same integrity of vocal line and an essentially Romantic outlook without eschewing the grit of dissonance and the ambiguous key center. … My favorite setting was probably of Lorca's Romance sonámbulo. Plant takes advantage of textual repetitions to suggest ballad structure within something essentially organic form. The point is, however, that it does have form.    Most of the performers, including the composer himself at the piano, do really well. The songs sweep along. [Jocelyne Fleury is] an intelligent, incredibly musical singer, who can instill you with the poems' emotions. … she reminded me of the incomparable Jennie Tourel… ...this disc should appeal to listeners on the lookout for distinguished songs..

-Stephen Schwartz, ClassicalNet

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