News & Reviews

Collapse All | Expand All

American University in Bulgaria News
Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Getting It Together: U.S. Duo Showcase the Art of Collaboration
by Deyan Georgiev

"Expertly led and beautifully performed by Engebreth and d’Amato, “Getting It Together” illustrated the subjectivity of artistic experience by illuminating several interlocking forms of collaboration: between poet and composer, composer and performer, and performer and listener"
Read the full review >>


The Portland Press Herald
Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dance Review: In 'Poet's Love,' ballet, music unite
by Jennifer Brewer

"The performance was, quite simply, breathtaking. Miele has created one of those rare ballets that seem so integral to the music that they must be illustrating what was in the composer's mind during composition. Engebreth's singing, with Alison d'Amato on piano, was beautiful and heartfelt. His voice has a wonderful purity, and his expressiveness, both vocally and physically, was perfectly suited to the ballet, subtly amplifying the emotional portrayal on stage without distracting from or overwhelming it."
Read the full review >>


The Boston Musical Intelligencer
Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wordsong more than a Concert
by Susan Miron

"I don’t remember a “concert” where people were as engaged, or had as much fun; but, of course, this event was much more than a concert."
Read the full review >>


The Leader
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Florestan Recital places students at center stage
by Ethan Powers

"It's such a privilege to have them perform [our compositions], to have these amazing performers take our piece, interpret it and give us this incredible performance."
Read the full review >>


National Public Radio (NPR)
Wednesday, December 15, 2010

NPR music5 Best American Contemporary Classical Albums Of 2010
by Daniel Gilliam

"If we've learned anything from Pinkham's settings, it's that his oeuvre should receive attention and respect within the pantheon of American song composers. Florestan's performances give due credit and more, with beautiful diction and assured interpretation."
Read the full review >>


Sequenza21
Saturday, August 28, 2010

CD Review
The Complete Songs, Volumes I and II
The Florestan Recital Project, Florestan Records
by Phil Muse

"One gets the feeling from listening to Volumes I and II of the Florestan Projectís Complete Songs project that song had a special significance for Pinkham, something to which he returned time and again over the years. The present 2-CD package is an ideal introduction [to Pinkham]."
Read the full review >>


The Boston Musical Intelligencer
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Florestan, BMOP Offer Sublime Tribute to Vocal Music
by Larry Phillips

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project had a good idea last weekend. They paired with the Florestan Project, a superb vocal group, to present three days of concerts named “Voice of America” at Tufts University’s Distler Performance Hall. Florestan presented the complete songs of Samuel Barber, some 75 in number. The Sunday afternoon concert I attended then featured a chamber-music-sized BMOP with concerted songs of Samuel Barber and Virgil Thomson. Florestan and BMOP together offered a sublime tribute to the voice.

Baritone Aaron Engebreth lent his strong baritone in two songs from the 1930s. Pianist Alison d’Amato was his able collaborator. Then tenor Joe Dan Harper, in his set of four songs collaborating with Anne Kissel, sang the unpublished “Music, When Soft Voices Die,” penned when the composer was 16. “Longing” had lovely high notes.

Soprano Sarah Pelletier, with Shiela Kibbe at the piano, sang songs from the ’20s, including the harrowing, but unpublished, “Man.” Highlights remaining from the hour’s recital include Harper’s “Sleep, now,” with its extraordinary ending; Engebreth’s “I hear an army,” with its poignant words “Why have you left me alone”; and Pelletier’s “Hermit Songs” from the ’50s, introduced by the singer as one of the best cycles in the 20th century. No one can forget the last song’s “ah, to be all alone.”

After a pause, BMOP provided the concerted section. The classic “Dover Beach” (text by Matthew Arnold) was given a strong rendition by Engebreth and a string quartet. Baritone Thomas Meglioranza offered a wondrous “The Feast of Love,” a fourth-century work translated in 1964 by Virgil Thomson.

Soprano Kristen Watson joined Meglioranza for a romp through Thomson’s Collected Poems (Kenneth Koch, 1962.) The singing illustrated Thomson’s vernacular style eminently.

After intermission we were in for a treat, Barber’s Knoxville, Summer of 1915 (James Agee text) and Thomson’s Five Songs of William Blake (1952). The former, a classic bit of Americana premiered by Eleanor Steber in 1947, was terribly moving as sung by Watson, especially at the end, as she sings about being put to bed by her parents.

The rarely performed Thomson songs, sung beautifully by Meglioranza, were equally moving. Thomas Hampson sang it at Tanglewood this summer as part of his song project. Who can forget the tune of “The Divine Image”? “The Land of Dreams” ended with a falsetto note of such startling tone and length as to be arresting. “The Little Black Boy” takes on added meaning these days as the singer intones “And I am black, but O! My soul is white.” “And Did Those Feet” is the famous “Jerusalem,” set as a hymn by Parry, but here underlining the martial nature of the second verse.

Tufts University benefited from this weekend, too, since the venue was its new Distler Performance Hall, a venue that seats 300, and aptly described by Joseph Auner, chair of the music department, “as a room — as you shall hear — that is made for singing.” It is a pity, then, that more people didn’t turn out. Perhaps they would have if they had known that Florestan, in honor of Tennessee, planned a bourbon reception afterwards to celebrate the weekend.

--Larry Phillips studied music at Harvard, the Montreal Conservatory, and at New England Conservatory. In 1974 he was a prizewinner at the International Harpsichord Competition in Bruges, Belgium.


Boston Lowbrow
Monday, September 28, 2009

BMOP and Florestan Sing Barber
by Bryce Lambert

On Sunday Boston’s, if not America’s, premiere new music orchestra, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, in conjunction with the Florestan Recital Project, concluded their weekend long festival ‘Voice of America.’ Double billed concerts on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday paired Florestan performances of Samuel Barber songs (entitled ‘Barberfest’) with BMOP concerts of American vocal music. Tufts’ Distler Hall provided an intimate, while acoustically grand, setting for the festival which featured unpublished Barber material as well as the vocal mainstays of his oeuvre.

This third instalment of Barberfest presented a rapidly paced and diverse program played and sung by three ‘teams,’ of a vocalist and a pianist; the strongest of which was Aaron Engebreth, a powerful and expressive baritone, and Allison d’Amato, a precise player with a good ear for her stage-mate.
Read the full review >>


The Boston Musical Intelligencer
Sunday, September 27, 2009

Compelling Performance of Barber Songs by Florestan Project
by Tom Schnauber

To the average concertgoer, Samuel Barber is perhaps not best known as a composer of songs. With the exception of Dover Beach and Knoxville, Summer of 1915, it is his purely instrumental pieces that generally get top billing. However, as singers and specialists in American art song have known for a long time, he is in fact one of the most significant contributors to the genre, adding many colors to the autumnal vocal bounty of mid 20th-century Americana.

The Florestan Recital Project, a Boston-based organization of singers and pianists dedicated to “exploring and presenting the full spectrum of song repertoire,” has taken it upon itself to present the entire collection of Barber’s songs for voice and piano — some 75 altogether, including a number of unpublished works. The second program in this three-concert series, which took place on September 26th in Tufts University’s Distler Performance Hall, demonstrated just how effective and enlightening a well-organized and skillfully performed exploration of a single composer’s output can be.

The songs on this program were presented more or less in chronological order, starting with works from Barber’s pre-teen years and ending with the cycle Despite and Still, completed when he was 58 years old. The stylistic progression from an inordinately talented youngster to a mature master was fascinating to hear. His Nursery Songs, written between the ages of 10 and 13, demonstrate keen and serious mimicry of the late-Romantic textural and tonal thickness that was still in vogue at the time (though “I Do Not Like Thee, Dr. Fell” made one wonder if he wasn’t already mature enough to express self-irony). In his mid-teens, Barber seemed to have become braver, using sparser textures with more variety and color, as heard in his Three Songs (1925-1926). This set contained some lovely word-painting, as in the end of “Hey Nonny No!”, and even a clever nod to J.S. Bach in “An Earnest Visit to His Unkind Mistress” (a reference that all young composers seem obliged to indulge in at some point). In his twenties, the composer truly began to mature, breaking away from chromatic tonality and creating accompanimental textures that are coherent in their economy, yet flexible in their expressive impact. The effectiveness of such an approach is particularly evident in “The Secrets of the Old” and “In the Dark Pinewood,” a shimmering gem that even rivals songs of his masterful contemporary, Benjamin Britten, in its brilliant frugality. By the time he was in his late 50s, Barber had himself mastered a musical language that allowed the deeply personal and poignant sentiments in Despite and Still to emerge with stunning sonic imagery.

The Florestan performers brought their exceptional talents to all these dramatically varied songs. Pianists John McDonald and Alison d’Amato each supported the vocalists with a fine ear and a full-bodied, cushiony touch that never overpowered the voices; though there were many times when they seemed to hold back too much, missing opportunities for the piano to sing out and articulate the accompanimental word-painting that Barber built into many of the songs. However, the singers themselves were more than able to bring a wealth of expression to the performances. Mezzo-soprano Janna Baty covered the expressive gamut from humorous to grave with a voice that, despite its full, operatic quality (often a handicap for singers of art songs), demonstrated a remarkable variety of colors and moods. The richness of her instrument was particularly well-suited to darker-tinged songs, such as “The Queen’s Face on the Summery Coin” and “Love’s Caution”. Similarly, Aaron Engebreth’s powerful baritone voice never got in the way of his intensely engaging ability to tell a story through his singing. The copper-hued velvet of his sound was particularly effective in “Watchers” and in his moving interpretation of the varied emotions contained in the Despite and Still cycle.

The astute program order and the high-quality performances ensured that the “style fatigue” that can often result from a concert of music by a single composer never set in. Instead, the evening was compelling and very satisfying.

-- Tom Schnauber is a Boston-based composer and is currently serving as chair of the Performance Arts Department at Emmanuel College. He holds a Ph.D. in composition and Theory from the University of Michigan.


The Hub Review
Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Barber Songbook
by Thomas Garvey

Samuel Barber once described himself as "a living dead composer," and indeed, for most his life his commitment to romantic feeling in the modern age consigned him to the dustbin of critical opinion. But history has a way of upending that dustbin, and Barber's gift for lyrical simplicity, cemented in the popular mind by his Adagio for Strings, has enabled him to outlast his detractors. Today Barber's reputation seems secure as a minor, but wonderful, composer, and he's taken his place in the pantheon of 20th century music that people actually like - next to Copland, Sibelius and others who found personal ways to communicate tonally to their time.

Central to Barber's achievement were his songs, which showcase his strengths (a melodic gift supported by intelligent craft) while sidestepping his great weakness (the lack of large, original architecture). So last weekend's "Barberfest," produced by the Florestan Recital Project as part of the "Voice of America" Festival at Tufts (in conjunction with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project) was a welcome chance to hear his entire catalogue. I attended Friday evening, and was struck by how well said catalogue held up; it's rare to hear a concert devoted entirely to one composer without sensing an eventual underlying repetition, but Barber's works (here both early and late), though certainly all sourced in one voice, steadily surprised in their subtle variety.

It helped that the composer, by all accounts a literary man, had terrific taste in texts. Sometimes I think more than half a song's success (or failure) can be traced to its lyrics, and so I was pleased to find Barber's selections ranged from Joyce to Rilke to Houseman to (yes) Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Actually, one of the Joyces didn't really work - Barber's attempt to set the sardonic romance of Finnegans Wake fell oddly flat. The other selections from Joyce (cameos, really) were far more successful. But then almost nothing on the program "failed," although my favorites were probably the brief, but hilarious "Dere Two Fella Joe," the po-faced "Monks and Raisins," (Villa) the exquisitely mournful "Of that so sweet imprisonment," (Joyce) the gently admonishing "Thy Love," (Browning) and the casually surreal "A Green Lowland of Pianos" (Milosz!). The central thread in the concert was a deep yet somehow luminous sense of melancholy - Barber struggled all his life with depression - and this registered perhaps with greatest force in the settings of five poems from Rilke, "Mélodies Passagères," which were meant as a tribute to the gay French master of modern art-song, Francis Poulenc and his partner, baritone Pierre Bernac (one, "Un cygne," is sung below by Thomas Hampson).

The evening's singers all acquitted themselves well, although the fulsomeness (and vibrato) of Sarah Pelletier's soprano sometimes seemed to overwhelm the material. Better matched to Barber were the more transparent Shadi Ebrahami, who delighted with "The Daisies" and "October Weather," and Joe Dan Harper, who worked wonders with "Of that so sweet imprisonment" and "Mélodies Passagères." Even Pelletier seemed to find the right level of attack with "La Nuit" and "O Boundless, Boundless Evening." But alas, at that moment the evening had to end; would it had indeed been boundless.


The Boston Globe
Saturday, September 26, 2009

Kicking off a vocal fest at Tufts
by Jeremy Eichler

The conductor Gil Rose, after curating last year's Ditson Festival of Contemporary Music, is admirably keeping alive the vision of a local new-music festival in late September. This year's iteration, entitled "Voice of America," is underway at Tufts University's Granoff Music Center. It does not have the Ditson Fund's generous backing so it paints on a necessarily smaller canvas, but last night's opening performances made clear that it should be a richly rewarding weekend of American vocal music.

"Voice of America" is actually two festivals under one roof. The Florestan Recital Project is celebrating the upcoming Barber centenary with its own BarberFest, a survey of the composer's complete songs divided over three programs. Each one precedes an orchestral concert with vocal soloists joining Rose's Boston Modern Orchestra Project.

Last night's opening installment of BarberFest suggested we are in for a well-prepared, meticulously assembled cycle. The Florestan directors chose to present not just the published works but also obtained permission from the Library of Congress and Barber's estate to present several unpublished songs that are almost never performed, including seven last night from his teenage years.

While his sense of craft was clearly still developing in these early works, the pieces did not feel like disconnected juvenilia. Rather, Barber from that young age seemed to already possess his core melodic instincts and a certain expressive openness that allows these very early songs to sit comfortably on a program with the composer's later music. The performances I heard — from sopranos Sarah Pelletier and Shadi Ebrahami, tenor Joe Dan Harper, and pianists Anne Kissel, Shiela Kibbe, and Linda Osborn-Blaschke — were accomplished and persuasive. It was a particular pleasure to hear these art songs presented in the clear, warm, and intimate acoustics of Tufts's Distler Hall.

The BMOP program opened with Scott Wheeler's delightful and witty "Gold Standard," with its two Buddhist monks (here, tenor Charles Blandy and baritone David Kravitz) parsing monetary policy en route to more profound truths. Carol Mastrodomenico ably sang two of John McDonald's formidable works — "Speech Made by Music" and "Put These in Your Pipe" — and Blandy took on Ronald Perera's vivid song cycle "Crossing the Meridian." Deadline forced an early departure, regretfully before hearing Andy Vores's "Goback Goback." The festival continues tonight and tomorrow, with the BMOP programs surveying earlier and, Milton Babbitt notwithstanding, more conservative music.


Classical Voice of New England
Friday, September 25, 2009

Florestan and BMOP Join Forces to Celebrate American Vocal Repertoire
by Robert Myers

"Together, these 2 programs were admirable additions to the Boston artistic calendar, and both organizations should receive encomium for their dedication and artistic ingenuity."
Read the full review >>


The Boston Globe
September 13, 2009

Quiet month gets stimulus:
Jump-starting the classical season - and the economy - one art song at a time
by Jeremy Eichler

September is usually the quietest month of the year for local classical music, with the summer activity largely vanished and the fall tumult yet to descend. Last year was an exception, with the Alice M. Ditson Fund throwing a big new-music party for most of the established local ensembles over four days at the Institute of Contemporary Art. As groups collaborated and programmed on a broader canvas, the festival energized the local scene, and many musical insiders hoped it could become a fall tradition. New funders would be needed and the scale might necessarily be smaller, but it was clear that those September weeks were ripe for something more ambitious than a single concert.

In that spirit, conductor Gil Rose set out to plan another festival for this September with his Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Then the recession hit and hopes dimmed - that is, until Rose heard about $50 million of federal stimulus funds being allocated, after heated debate, to the National Endowment for the Arts. BMOP applied for a special stimulus grant. It worked. Presto: $50,000, or about 80 percent of the new festival’s budget.

So now, a year after the Ditson, we have “Voice of America,’’ a six-concert, three-day event beginning Sept. 25, with plans to jump-start the classical music season and - as luck would have it - the national economy. For the occasion, BMOP has partnered with the Florestan Recital Project and the Tufts University Department of Music, which will host the performances at its own Distler Performance Hall at the Granoff Music Center.

A full half of the festival will be given over to Florestan’s “BarberFest,’’ a traversal of the complete songs of Samuel Barber, with each program followed by a BMOP orchestral performance of repertoire ranging from recent vocal works by local composers Scott Wheeler and Andy Vores to rarely heard orchestral songs by Milton Babbitt and Jacob Druckman to iconic American scores such as Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.’’

“Everyone loved the Ditson,’’ said Rose, “but that approach involves a bucket-load of money. None of the [new music groups] including BMOP is capable of taking that on. This festival is on a smaller scale, but it’s still an attempt to take that late-September time slot and create a special environment.’’

Rose and the other organizers believe that the Tufts hall, with its capacity of just over 300, will be ideally scaled to the intimate vocal programs. For its part, the university has been looking for ways to place its performance space, which opened in January 2007, more firmly on the musical map of Greater Boston. “It’s a great place to experience music,’’ said Joseph Auner, chairman of the Tufts music department, “and we really want people to know about it.’’

Vocalists for the festival include Sarah Pelletier, Thomas Meglioranza, Lucy Shelton, Janna Baty, Krista River, Kristen Watson, and the baritone Aaron Engebreth, who together with Anne Kissel, Joe Dan Harper, and Alison d’Amato, directs the Florestan Recital Project. The group has presented complete cycles of Poulenc’s vocal music in the past, and has long had its collective eye on the complete Barber.

And they mean complete. Florestan received permission from the Library of Congress and Barber’s own estate to perform more than one dozen unpublished songs. Some of the manuscripts were disintegrating to the point that archivists would not let them be photocopied, so Engebreth and colleagues brought their digital cameras down to Washington D.C., and took pictures of the scores. The music, according to Engebreth, easily repays the effort.

“I think Barber is often taken for granted but he is a real master of song,’’ the baritone said. “The music is very pleasing to the ear, and it’s very pleasing to sing. And I think all that unabashed lyricism really reflected his honest thoughts.’’

Engebreth is also not worried about offering such a concentrated dose of Barber’s style. “I think any time a composer’s complete music is being performed in a few days, there’s a danger of hearing a certain amount of sameness,’’ he said. “But Barber’s songs create three very different programs. Each song is really a world of its own.’’


American Record Guide
May/June 2009

Reviewing 'The Complete Songs of Daniel Pinkham, volumes 1 and 2'
by R. Moore

The Florestan Project gives us two volumes of songs by Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006), composer, educator, and organist; the first presents music primarily for the concert hall, the second mostly for the church.

Settings of texts by AE Housman, Emily Dickinson, and his friend James Wright (1927-1980) are heard on Volume 1. Of particular interest is the set of four songs, The Green Wall (2000), for tenor and guitar. It's a completely different setting than his setting of the same texts a decade earlier for mixed chorus and chamber orchestra.

The works on Volume 2 are for voice and organ. Letters from St. Paul (1965) is a set of six texts from New Testament epistles that shows the composer experimenting with 12-tone technique. Pinkham remarked: "To the horror of the 12-tone composers, my work is thoroughly tonal and actually has tunes." 'Ubi Caritas' at 3:16 is the longest and the most interesting work on Volume 2.

The recorded sound is abruptly different in the two volumes. Volume 1, the better of the two, was recorded at Jordan Hall of the New England Conservatory. Volume 2 was recorded in King's Chapel, Boston, where Pinkham was organist for 42 years. Heinrich Christensen, the current organist at King's Chapel and Pinkham's assistant for the last two years of his tenure there, accompanies the singers on the 1964 CB Fisk organ that Pinkam helped design. The acoustics of King's Chapel do not make recording easy, and the sound of Volume 2 is disappointing. I have heard the organ many times, but here it sometimes sounds like an electronic organ.

Harper and Engebreth are both terrific singers with a warm sound and smooth and clear diction. Their voices are so well matched that they sound very much like different ranges of the same voice. Both pianists are accomplished and Piorkowsky is exemplary.

The two discs are released separately as 1001 and 1002 or together for a reduced price. Although Volume 2 is marred by the quality of the recorded sound, it is nevertheless the only recording of these fine works. Good notes, including many comments from the composer. Full texts and translations of Latin texts.


Fanfare Magazine
Issue 32:5 (May/June 2009)

by Colin Clarke

This is a major issue. Recently, I reviewed, very positively, a disc of Pinkham’s works, The Cask of Amontillado and The Garden Party (Fanfare 30:5), while simultaneously bemoaning the paucity of performances of his works in the U.K., where I am based. The present release is, if anything, of even greater significance and merely serves to reinforce the plea for more.

The division of this two-disc box into songs for voice, piano, and guitar, and songs for voice and organ, is a neat one. How lucky Pinkham was to have such interpreters at his disposal for this project. Joe Dan Harper, the tenor who sings the first of the Housman settings (“Stars, I have seen them fall”) sings with a magnificent purity of expression. There is nothing superfluous here, an approach that chimes entirely with Pinkham’s deep simplicity of writing. Vocal lines are florid and almost conspiratorial—one gets the impression that these songs are directed straight at you, the listener. In that sense, the recorded medium is on this occasion the perfect vehicle for dissemination.

The Green Wall (2000) is scored for voice (Harper again) and guitar (Jim Piorkowski). The cycle works well sung by a tenor (it was originally intended for the soprano Barbara Marino). Ten years previously, Pinkham had set the same texts by James Wright for mixed chorus and small chamber orchestra. On reflection, he realized that the story-telling nature of the poetry fitted a solo voice best, with guitar accompaniment. The song, “A Fit against the Country,” is perhaps the most memorable of this collection (although it is a close-run thing). The rocking, gentle guitar provides a lovely backdrop for the flowing vocal lines; mutually arrived-upon accents, when they occur, make their mark beautifully.

Called Home (1996–97) sets poems by the great Emily Dickinson, and is dedicated to the composer John Luther Adams. Aaron Engebreth is the baritone here, accompanied by pianist Alison d'Amato. Engebreth has a very attractive voice, very focused in its lower register (unlike many baritones, he does not sound uncomfortable in these lower reaches) and free in its higher ones. Pinkham’s settings of Dickinson are masterly, ever responsive to the twists and turns of her thought patterns. The second song, “Promise this,” is especially effective because of the bleak austerity of the setting, a bleakness amplified by the next song, “Let down the bars, O Death.” The shifting, disturbed atmosphere of the final song in the set, “Tie the strings to my life,” is remarkably well projected here. When love has gone is a 1993 setting of texts by James Wright originally written for the mezzo, D’Anna Fortunato, and performed here by Joe Dan Harper. There is a held-breath sense of sad recollection running through “A Breath of Life” that is amplified in the nocturnal musings of “Beginning.” In this context, the bare octaves of “My Grandmother’s Ghost” achieve the requisite spookiness astonishingly well.

The Two Encore Songs were written for encore after two specific song-cycles: the sprightly “Little Marble Wall” for The Green Wall and the more narrational “Love in a warm room in winter” for Come, Look Quietly (which here actually follows it). Come, Look Quietly itself was composed for Joe Dan Harper, who is not the performer here. The reason? At the time of composition, tenor Harper was a baritone, so here the cycle is performed by Aaron Engebreth. Pinkham’s cycle contains moments of much charm but also moments of real weight (as in the final movement, “I want to sleep”).

I have to confess that when I saw that the second volume comprised songs for voice and organ, I felt a certain amount of trepidation. No great lover of organ music at the best of times, the thought of organ-accompanied songs for 69 minutes pretty much filled me with dread. How wrong can a reviewer be?

Unsurprisingly, there is a distinct liturgical bent to this disc. The organist throughout is the excellent Heinrich Christensen. The recordings for this second disc took place in King’s Chapel, Boston, in July 2008. Pinkham was intimately involved with the installation of the present instrument, a C. B. Fisk organ, in 1964. The Three Latin Motets of 1998, dedicated to Ned Rorem, includes some adventurous harmonic writing for organ and mellifluous vocal lines (try the opening “Jesu, dulcis memoria”) despatched with smooth confidence by Engebreth. These motets were performed at Pinkham’s memorial service in January 2007.

The “Ave Maria” of the Three Canticles from Luke was apparently composed overnight, but there is no indication of haste in this little jewel. The last two canticles are in fact the familiar Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. The Magnificat rises to a splendid climax around “Sicut erat in principio”; the Nunc is a contemplative setting, in which Joe Dan Harper succeeds in setting up something of a hypnotic rhythm.

Carols and Cries is apparently among Pinkham’s best-known vocal works. It is easy to hear why. The joy of “Yes, indeed!” is infectious, especially when rendered as here. The songs are split between Harper and Engebreth. Texts by Eugene Green, Dickinson, Thomas Campion, and Gerard Manley Hopkins sit with either direct Biblical quotes or the words of saints (St. John Chrysostom and St. Ambrose). The most powerful movement is “Hinder not music,” from Ecclesiasticus, a dramatic, short song (less than two minutes) that makes its mark forcefully, dissonantly, and unforgettably. “Author of Light” (Campion) is positively radiant.

The strength of Pinkham’s respect for the spirituality within his chosen texts runs through this disc, and nowhere more so than in the Four Marian Antiphons (1988). The intelligent choice of stops in “Ave regina caelorum” adds an acerbic touch, while the hushed reverence of “Salve regina” seems perfect for the subject matter. All hail Harper, too, for his easy way with the tricky melodic lines, and for his wonderfully open higher register. The Isle of Dreams (2004) is actually dedicated to the performer here, Aaron Engebreth. It sets lines by Henry Vaughan, George Herbert, and Robert Herrick and is alive with fantasy and not a little joy.

Pinkham himself refers to Letters from Saint Paul (1965) as “severe,” reflecting his experiments with 12-tone technique. There exist also versions for voice and string orchestra and for medium voice with keyboard accompaniment and string quartet; the work seems to sit perfectly with organ accompaniment, however. Finally, the Wellesley Hills Psalm Book (1984). This piece can be performed by unison choir or by solo medium voice and organ (here Engebreth does the honors). Pinkham eschewed the more familiar 1611 King James versions of these texts and sought less familiar translations, the earliest of which dates back to The Great Bible of 1539 (not 1439, as stated on page 32 of the booklet). There are 10 movements. Word setting is unfailingly sympathetic to the text. “Call to remembrance,” the penultimate movement, is simply lovely.

Melody is the absolute bedrock of Pinkham’s expression, and these two discs are in effect an offering to the concept of melody itself. I like the way that in the booklets the song texts are peppered with quotations on sundry matters by the composer himself. In fact, presentation is exemplary from all angles. Enthusiastically recommended.


Fanfare Magazine
Issue 32:5 (May/June 2009)

by Paul Orgel
These CDs comprise the first two volumes in a recorded collection of the complete songs of Daniel Pinkham (1923–2006) by the Florestan Recital Project, a group consisting of baritone Aaron Engebreth, tenor Joe Dan Harper, and two pianists, Alison d’Amato and Anne Kissel Harper. They are joined by guitarist Jim Piorkowski and the current organist at Boston’s King’s Chapel, Heinrich Christensen.

For decades, Pinkham was a Boston institution, a student of Nadia Boulanger, organist and director of music at King’s Chapel, a teacher at the New England Conservatory, and a prolific composer of occasional music. He was a mentor to the Florestan Recital Project and this recording project, planned before his death, is an affectionate tribute. Samples of Pinkham’s views on music-making decorate the handsome CD booklet and give a sense of his practicality and unpretentiousness. “I just like to hear my pieces more than once, and when you write for the church you have a better chance at that. . . . I do know that people like tunes and they can find them in my music.”

The first disc contains four song cycles and four miscellaneous songs for tenor or baritone with piano accompaniment, and one cycle with guitar, all composed between 1993 and 2003. Aside from the cycle Called Home on poems by Emily Dickinson and two A. E. Housman settings, the texts are by the American poet James Wright, with two by his wife Anne. Pinkham’s subtle, unpredictable music is well suited to Wright’s sometimes bleak and often startling poems, with their vivid nature imagery. The Green Wall, a Wright song cycle with guitar accompaniment, evokes the delicacy of Dowland.

The second disc contains songs for voice and organ that set religious texts in Latin and English. They range from the catchy Carols and Cries to the more dour 1965 cycle, Letters from Saint Paul, in which Pinkham experimented with 12-tone technique. “To the horror of the twelve-tone composers, however, my work is thoroughly tonal and has tunes.”

Pinkham’s songs are beautifully made, melodic, and extremely sensitive in their word-setting. They also encompass a more varied emotional range—from comic to mystical—than one might perceive on first hearing. If you enjoy Britten’s songs or those of Ned Rorem, two other composers to whom the Florestan Recital Project is devoted, you will like Pinkham’s. This recording succeeds because of the excellence of Harper’s and Engebreth’s performances. Harper is a baritone turned tenor, and Engebreth is a light baritone who sounds like a young Thomas Hampson. Both possess healthy voices, fine American diction, and a refined, unmannered way of singing.

The two sound alike, and if one listens straight through either volume of songs, there is a certain sameness of timbre and delivery. If the Florestan Recital Project had used female singers to record the two song cycles, When Love Was Gone and The Green Wall, that were originally composed for soprano and mezzo-soprano, the variety might have made this very worthy project a more engaging recital. Even so, Pinkham’s songs are best savored in small doses, following the texts, one cycle at a time.

The playing of the two pianists, guitarist, and organist is excellent, but in Pinkham’s song-writing one’s attention is always first drawn to the singing and the words. The recordings, made in Boston’s Jordan Hall and King’s Chapel are well engineered and capture a sense of the wonderful ambience of those halls.


Classical Voice of New England
Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Florestan Recital Project’s Complete Songs of Daniel Pinkham Begun
by Marvin J. Ward

"The performances are all as lovely as the works themselves. Both singers have excellent, clean, clear, crisp diction and they are supported by superb instrumentalists."
Read the full review >>


The Boston Globe
Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A nod to Daniel Pinkham
by Matthew Guerrieri, Globe Correspondent

All politics is local, a notable Bostonian once said. All music? Maybe not, what with jet-setting stars and nomadic conductors.

But another notable Bostonian, the late Daniel Pinkham, did his best to stimulate the domestic musical economy. Pinkham was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Boston-based Florestan Recital Project, and now Florestan has returned the favor, recording a multi-CD edition of Pinkham's works for solo voice. On Sunday, the group celebrated the release of the first two volumes with a recital at King's Chapel, Pinkham's home base for more than 40 years.

The program drew from the release's second volume, sacred songs for voice and organ, with the chapel's current music director, Heinrich Christensen, at the manuals. In works encompassing five decades, the consistency of Pinkham's compositional personality was striking. Even the austere recitatives of 1965's "Letters From Saint Paul," which draw on 12-tone techniques, come out as quintessential Pinkham: serpentine harmonies, redolent with ear-tickling dissonance, but decisively tonal. In 1993's "Three Canticles From Luke," an extravagant triadic arpeggio on the words "salutare tuum" ("Thy salvation") might as well be a testament of musical faith.

The music at times bowed toward the town's psalm-book past: simple, verse-chorus forms and sturdy, clear syllabic melodies. But Pinkham's text-setting goes far beyond metrical stodginess, being flexible, playful, even a little jazzy sometimes, as in "The Wellesley Hills Psalm Book," quite a bit more than a little jazzy.

That virtue - clarity not just of text but also of its poetic flow - was exemplified by baritone Aaron Engebreth and tenor Joe Dan Harper, who divided the singing duties. Both showed elegant but absolutely articulate diction, a boon to music that puts the words front and center. Engebreth's warm, lyric voice caught the lyrical core of Pinkham's preaching. Harper's focused tenor was at its best in the sinuously expressive prose settings at the heart of "Carols and Cries," a 1990 cycle written, characteristically, for a group of soloists from the King's Chapel choir.

The concert was, most of all, fun - maybe an unusual epithet for sacred repertoire, but Pinkham was the sort who reserved his biggest, loudest effects for moments of joy, not terror. Whether setting the "Magnificat" with bright, Poulenc-like effervescence, spinning a whirling reel around Robert Herrick's heavenly vision of "The Isle of Dreams," or ending the 150th Psalm on an extroverted big-band chord, Pinkham never let the devil have the best tunes.


The Dickinsonian
Thursday, September 27, 2007

Florestan Recital Project Debuts at Dickinson
by Alyssa Coltrain

On Sept. 22, 2007, the Florestan Recital project gave its debut concert in the Rubendall Recital Hall, performing “Evidence of Things Not Seen,” a song cycle composed by Ned Rorem.

Robert Pound, the Chair of the Music Department, said that the cycle contained “the full breadth of human experience from youth and first love….through to old age and confronting the finality of life.” The 90-minute song cycle contains a blend of solos, duets, trios and quartets for four vocalists and one pianist, and arranges a variety of texts to music, including poetry by W.H. Auden, Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire and Paul Goodman, as well as prose from William Penn, Julian Green, and John Woolman.

“Evidence of Things Not Seen” is operatic and theatrical in nature, using the stance and position of the vocalists during each part of the performance to help convey the meaning and situation of the text. It also uses the contradiction of music to lyrics to alter the effect of each song. “A Comment on War,” roughly halfway through the piece, uses a light, almost pastoral melody and the angelic postures of the two vocalists to add a bitter irony to the words “Truth is a bunch of vicious lies/ tied together and sterilized/a warmaker’s bait for unwise youth/to kill off each other/for the sake of/Truth.”

Ned Rorem assisted Florestan with their premier of the work in Boston in 2003, and commented that “I would most like to be remembered by ‘Evidence of Things Not Seen’…the performance of ‘Evidence,’ by the Florestan Recital Project, is exemplary and definitive. I am deeply moved that Florestan should wish to retain this work in the their repertory.”

“The performers were exceptionally talented,” said Christina Neno ’11, who attended the concert. “I really liked the way the melodies emphasized the atmosphere of the poems.”

The Florestan Recital project is a Boston based group of vocalists and pianists that was founded in 2001.

They are the Musical Artists-in-Residence for this and the next academic year, following in the footsteps of groups such as the Eaken Piano Trio, the Corigliano Quartet and Alarm Will Sound.

“My colleagues and I look for excellent musicians, first and foremost, but we also seek musicians who can communicate and contribute within the liberal-arts setting. We were impressed with their many ideas for integrating their residency with other parts of the music and academic programs on campus,” said Pound, citing some of the reasons why the group was chosen.

“Vocal music, because of its association with and frequent dependence on text, lends itself to interdisciplinary collaboration."

Florestan itself seemed equally impressed with the College. “The very existence of Dickinson's unique residency is evidence of the significant role the fine arts play at Dickinson as well as the visionary thinking of its administration," said tenor Jon Dan Harper, who is also an artistic co-director of the Project.

Florestan will also be researching British texts and compositions this fall, and will next perform “Let Us Garlands Bring: Songs of Shakespeare,” in which texts from Shakespeare have been set to music by various composers, including Vaughan and Schubert. They will perform this on Nov. 2, 2007, during Homecoming Weekend.


The Boston Globe
Thursday, April 17, 2007

Rich harmonies give life to a choral menagerie
by Matthew Guerrieri, Globe Correspondent

Children's stories use animals to depict human nature. The French poet Carmen Bernos de Gasztold uses human language to imagine the inner life of animals.

Premiered on Friday, pianist/composer John McDonald's hourlong song cycle on Bernos de Gasztold's "The Creatures' Choir" was commissioned by the ever-intrepid Florestan Recital Project. McDonald set 20 poetic letters from a menagerie of animals to God, in Rumer Godden's English translation; six other beasts are represented by solo piano interludes.

With a vocabulary of rich, clustered harmonies hinting at tonalities without settling on them, McDonald builds each song around tight gestures that often exploit the piano's extremes of register and articulation: Biting jabs in one song give way to cloudy rumbles in the next. The poems contain no overarching narrative thread. The fact that McDonald hasn't imposed one musically is true to the text, but it makes for less drama than might be expected from a concert-length work.

McDonald, a professor at Tufts, is a pianist of protean technique; the way he uses the instrument to conjure up each animal is uncanny, but for many of the songs, that's all there is. His attention to each word and image is skillful and apt, but rarely unexpected.

For some movements, this literal approach paid off. In "The Parrot," mezzo-soprano Jessica Bowers chattered incessantly, with the accompaniment jumping in to repeat, at length, the occasional prattling phrase. A wearily wandering "Snail" dragged itself along a glacial chord progression, Bowers complaining in a trombone-like, sepulchrally low register.

But despite McDonald's cleverness in channeling toad, lamb, and bear, it was the creatures without an obvious sonic stamp that yielded the most musically satisfying results. "The Centipede," neurotically puzzled by its own length, chanted mechanically rocking intervals over skittering keyboard clockwork. "The Spider" set the singer in a slow, delicate polyrhythmic web that moved past documentary to poetry. And "The Beaver" confidently exulted in its architectural ability with proud phrases, sturdy and optimistic.

Bowers sang with a sure command of the often demanding vocal line and communicated every word with sharp clarity. She has a big sound, and her dynamics were mostly on the loud side of the spectrum, but her characterizations were wholehearted, from a humming fly to a Wagnerian whale. Her extroversion tallied well with McDonald's playing: postcards from the zoo in bright, primary colors.


The Boston Globe
Friday, May 13, 2005

Classical Notes
by Richard Dyer, Globe Staff
Hidden gems...

... Another example is the work of the Florestan Recital Project, a collective of young singers and pianists devoted to art songs. Florestan presented some of the French master Francis Poulenc's songs about art and artists Sunday afternoon in the context of songs on related subjects. Baritone Sumner Thompson sang Poulenc's ''Five Poems of Paul Eluard" and ''The Work of a Painter," vivid musical characterizations of seven artists who were his contemporaries (Picasso, Chagall, Klee, etc.). His bearing was stiff, but he sang with attractive tone, excellent French, and a supple and elegant style. Former baritone Joe Dan Harper is now a tenor, and proved it with a stirring delivery of Britten's ardent ''Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo." His timbre is sunnier than before, his diction superb. Crystalline soprano Amanda Forsythe sang Poulenc, Rorem, and Richard Wilson's clever settings of witty poems by Phyllis McGinley (''In pictures by Grandma Moses/ The people have no noses"). She was even more communicative than the others because she was not score-bound. The pianists were first-rate: Anne Kissel Harper accompanied her husband with subtlety and insight, Alison D'Amato was more flamboyant with Thompson, and Karl Paulnack was both subtle and flamboyant with Forsythe and with Harper on ''Four Ben Jonson Songs" by Martin Hennessy. The composer is a prominent collaborative pianist himself; he knows the piano, the voice, and poetry, but songwriting is also a gift, and he has it. ''Echo's Song," famous in a setting by Dowland, was his particularly personal and poignant response to Sept. 11.


The Boston Globe
Friday, October 8, 2004

Classical Notes
by Richard Dyer, Globe Staff
Preserving the Art Song

The Florestan Recital Project is dedicated to assuring the continuing vitality of the art song. Founded by singers Joe Dan Harper, Aaron Engebreth, and pianist Alison d'Amato, the group brings together the cream of the crop of the new generation of Boston-based singers and pianists for enterprising programs of the song literature. The project is now in the second season of a survey of the complete songs of the French composer Francis Poulenc. The next program, Oct. 24 at 4 p.m. in Seully Hall at the Boston Conservatory, features contrasting cycles by Poulenc, "Chansons Gaillardes" and "La Fraicheur et le Feu," as well as Samuel Barber's "Hermit Songs" and Robert Beaser's "Seven Deadly Sins." Performers include Harper, baritone Jesse Clark, soprano Sarah Pelletier , pianist D'Amato, and Shiela Kibbe.


Boston Herald
Friday, January 23, 2004

ARTS/ CULTURE NEWS
by Keith Powers/ Classical Music
Trio of Classical Presenters Cues Youth Movement
s

If Boston has a decidedly youthful feel for the next few days, it's because of the coincidental efforts of three separate music presenters. Dinosaur Annex, the New England Conservatory and the Florestan Recital Project will celebrate the young - in vastly different ways - with concert presentations this weekend....

Beginning at 4 p.m. Sunday, the fancifully named Florestan Recital Project explores music of the young in quite a different way at Boston Conservatory's Seully Hall. This season, Florestan presents three concerts of music by Les Six, a small but influential group of French composers that formed just before World War I and continued to produce music well past midcentury.

In this first recital, Florestan explores the group's early works, all written around World War I, when intellectual life in Paris swirled around the twin geniuses of Jean Cocteau and Eric Satie. Les Six, whose most prominent members include Francis Poulenc and Darius Milhaud, took on Cocteau and Satie as mentors, trying to expand on their modernist aesthetic.

``There are two settings in this concert inspired by Jean Cocteau, and we're closing out with a reference to Satie to honor that inspiration,'' said Florestan co-artistic director and pianist Alison d'Amato.

``One difficulty with the texts is that they are early Dada, and the verses are obscure,'' she said. ``We are just trying to understand the images, and let the music convey a subtext. Dada came from a human need to explore undefined emotions and reality, and that needs to be expressed.''

Florestan's mission is to investigate art song - that confluence of poetry, voice and music in balanced measure. ``There are plenty of chamber groups, and lots of orchestras, in Boston,'' d'Amato said, ``but nobody else dedicated to art song. The repertory is great, and financial restraints make this more popular. I think art song recitals have been enjoying a resurgence. And besides, Boston has a tradition of embracing the new.''

( For information about the Florestan Recital Project concert, call 617-859-8637. For the Dinosaur Annex Young Composers weekend, call 617-482-3852. For NEC's Piano Festival, call 617-536-2412.)


The Florestan Recital Project: Press Release
December 19, 2003

The Florestan Recital Project announces its new artistic residency at Boston Conservatory and its third season highlighting the songs of Les six.

Now in its third season, Florestan Recital Project is pleased to announce its opening concert on Sunday, January 25th, 2004 at 4pm in Boston Conservatory's Seully Hall. This marks the beginning of an artistic residency with Boston Conservatory. Subsequent recitals will be Sunday, March 21st at 6pm and Sunday, May 9th at 4pm.

The Florestan Recital Project presents songs by the group of French composers known as Les six: Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc and Germaine Tailleferre. Their compositions not only responded to great political unrest in the early 20th century, but also gave voice to changing artistic trends in France and re-defined French music and poetry. Florestan's exploration of this era also begins a multi-season project presenting the complete songs of Francis Poulenc.

This third season will also proudly include Florestan's third world premiere; a song-cycle by American composer Paul Preusser which will explore a multi-cultural poetic response to World War II. This premiere will be performed on the May 9th program.

Florestan's third season will include performances by sopranos Sarah Pelletier, Amanda Forsythe and Caprice Corona; mezzo-sopranos Krista River, Jessica Bowers and Paula Murrihy; tenors Jason McStoots and Charles Blandy and baritones Drew Poling and Aaron Engebreth. Pianists will include Shiela Kibbe, Linda Osborn-Blaschke, John McDonald and Alison D'Amato.

This season also welcomes the addition of pianist Alison d'Amato to Florestan's Artistic Direction team.

For more information, please call the Florestan Recital Project at 617.859.8637 or visit its website: www.florestanproject.org


Bay Windows
November 9, 2003 - ARTSPLUS

The year in review - classical music
by Stephen Marc Beaudoin

2002 has still left many arts organizations reeling from the economic recession. Ticket sales are down at even our largest classical music institutions - it's tough to do satisfying, challenging work as an individual or group when you're just worried about pulling through the year.

Despite this recession, the ten groups and individuals below made outstanding contributions to Boston's classical music community in 2002.

Florestan Recital Project: "Women's Voices" program, November 16th. Florestan Recital Project - a welcome new presenter of song recital programs - entered their second season, dedicated to composers Daniel Pinkham and Ned Rorem, November 16. Krista River, Joe Dan Harper and Anne Kissel Harper helped make it an unforgettable evening. www.florestanproject.org


The Boston Globe
Friday, June 27, 2003

Classical Notes
by Richard Dyer
Contemporary Music Takes the Stage

Grand Tour: Baritone Joe Dan Harper and his wife, collaborative pianist Anne Kissel Harper, are off to Mannheim, Germany, where he will study German Lieder and opera on a Fulbright Fellowship (Anne Kissel Harper has already had her own Fulbright year, which she spent in Stuttgart).

The Harpers were among the founders of the Florestan Recital Project and the Red House Opera Group [sic], and they were both involved in the recent debut season of Opera Unlimited, a festival of chamber opera - Joe Dan was Adam in tennis clothes in Daniel Pinkham's "Garden Party," and Anne was at the piano.


The Boston Globe
January 14, 2003

Music Review
Poems sing with life in 'Evidence'
by Ellen Pfeifer, Globe Correspondent

Ned Rorem has been - first, last, and always - a composer of songs. That conclusion shouldn't be surprising, considering he is almost as prolific a published writer as he is a composer of music. Words have always been important to him.

For many years, he had cherished the idea of producing an evening-length song cycle. The New York Festival of Song, in conjunction with the Library of Congress, gave him the chance to do it for his 75th birthday celebration in 1998. The result was ''Evidence of Things Not Seen,'' a collection of 36 mostly poetic texts by 24 authors ranging from the 18th-century Thomas Ken to the 49-year-old Mark Doty. The Florestan Recital Project (Anne Harley, soprano; Jason McStoots, tenor; Krista River, mezzo-soprano; Aaron Engebreth, baritone; Alison d'Amato and Linda Osborn-Blaschke, pianos) gave the Boston-area premiere of the work on Saturday night at the Community Music Center of Boston.

Arranged in three parts, corresponding to the ''Beginnings,'' ''Middles,'' and ''Ends'' of life, the staggeringly varied texts are concerned with passion and affection, the contemplation of life's long horizons, the sudden recognition of mortality, death, and (quite specifically) the sweetness and pain of homosexual love. The authors Rorem calls upon most frequently are W. H. Auden, Paul Goodman, and Walt Whitman. There are also single texts by Oscar Wilde, Colette, Langston Hughes, Baudelaire, and Kipling. Dealing with the permanence of spiritual things, the cycle takes its title from Hebrews 2:1 - ''Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.''

Rorem's settings are all about responding to words, individually and in phrases. His music is always skillful, always beautifully crafted. It draws the listener into the poetry. With its all-purpose chromatic grammar and sweet-sour dissonance, the musical language never ravishes the ear in the way that a single piano accompaniment pattern by Schumann can do. Yet the alternating solos, duos, trios, and quartets always reveal something fascinating about the structure or conceit of a poem. So, for example, in Colette's ''On an Echoing Road,'' the composer mirrors the trotting of two horses saddled together, now in unison, now out of step, through the voices of soprano and mezzo who sing, now in unison, now in out-of-phase counterpoint.

One of the most striking songs incorporates Doty's lengthy poem ''Faith,'' in which the narrator describes the terrible recurrent nightmares he has had, after his lover's death from AIDS, in which a beloved dog is struck by a car. Set for baritone solo and sung intensely by Engebreth, it sears the heart.

Hughes's ''Comment on War '' features straightforwardly consonant but ironic harmonies underscoring the words, ''Let us kill off youth/For the sake of truth.'' In John Woolman's ''I Saw a Mass,'' Rorem opens with a horrific piano tone cluster, held seemingly forever to emphasize the words, ''I saw a mass of matter of a dull gloomy color ... and was informed that this mass was human beings in as great misery as they could be and live, and that I was mixed in with them.''

The performances by the quartet of singers and two pianists were deeply felt and impeccably prepared. Of the vocalists, baritone Engebreth and mezzo River stood out for the beauty of their voices as well as their eloquence.


The Boston Globe
Friday, January 10, 2003

Classical Picks
by Richard Dyer

The Florestan Recital Project presents the Boston premiere of Ned Rorem's "Evidence of Things Not Seen," Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Community Music Center of Boston.


The Boston Globe
January 5, 2003

Critics' Picks
by Richard Dyer

THE FLORESTAN RECITAL PROJECT - Celebrating the 80th birthday of composer Ned Rorem, the group offers the Boston premiere of his magnum opus, "Evidence of Things Not Seen," an evening-length song cycle for four singers, Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Community Music Center of Boston. The singers are Jason McStoots, tenor, Aaron Engebreth, baritone, Krista River, mezzo-soprano, and Anne Harley, soprano; pianists are Alison d'Amato and Linda Osborn-Blaschke.


South End News
November 21, 2002 [Vol. 23, No. 44]

Music Review
Welcome Surprises:
Florestan concert at Music Center delights despite last minute changes
by Stephen Marc Beaudoin, Classical Correspondent

Saturday evening's second season debut concert of the Florestan Recital Project was a full of surprises. Because of illness, singers Caprice Corona and Jessica Bowers - around whom Florestan's "Women's Voices" program had been planned - were forced to cancel. With some deft last-minute handling on the part of Florestan founders Anne Kissel and Joe Dan Harper, however, the evening turned out to be a series of spontaneous delights.

The spontaneity of the evening in fact worked very much to the group's advantage. Mr. and Mrs. Harper were sincere in their informal introductions and explanations of the varied program as it unfolded (and included only two of the four originally scheduled song cycles).

Absent any programs, the audience was forced to concentrate only on the singer and their song. It was a treat to see patrons sitting up and engaged with the artists instead of hunched over program notes and artist biographies.

Baritone Joe Dan Harper joined his wife Anne for Beethoven's "An die ferne Geliebte," what Mr. Harper referred to as "the first true song cycle." Mr Harper's communication was so vivid and complete that translations (or supertitles, which have crept onto both the opera and recital stages) would here have been absurd. High marks also to Mr. Harper's splendid diction.

Mezzo-soprano Krista River "got the call this morning to do the program," according to Mrs. Harper, who had earlier confided that River was also ill and just might not be able to perform. She performed Robert Schumann's "Frauenliebe und Leben," a short cycle on eight poems of Adelbert von Chamisso detailing a woman's journey of love and life.

River sang with warmly lush, even tone and meaningful diction. She also knows a thing or two about using straight tone. This was my third time hearing the mezzo in five months, and she just keeps getting better.

Ned Rorem's "Women's Voices," the concert's show piece and the crux of its theme, opened the first half of the program. Rorem's 11-song cycle, on poems by women from various times throughout history, encompasses a huge vocal and emotional range, including the rage of The Countess of Pembroke ("If ever hapless woman had the cause") and the warmth of Christina Rossetti's "A Birthday."

Soprano Sabrina Learman, on loan from the Chameleon Arts Ensemble, gamely stepped in for the cycle, and on less than a week's notice.

Learman and pianist Anne Kissel Harper performed seven songs from the set, Learman read the music from a stand. her approach was notable for effectively dramatic declamation and sheer volume, but an uneven vibrato and the tendency to push her voice compromised otherwise good musical intentions. The high B flat of "If ever hapless woman had the cause" was just out of the soprano's reach.

Composer Daniel Pinkham (an artistic advisor to the group) introduced his 1999 set, "Come, Look Quietly," by way of a letter from poet James Wright's widow, Anne Wright, which helped to illuminate Wright's poetry.

Pinkham's cycle is charatteristically filled with wit and always well-wrought; his prosody is second to none. Mr. Harper, for whom the work was written, demonstrated again why he is one of Boston's most gifted and intelligent young recitalists; the voice always at the service of the words, the communication always present not only vocally but physically.

The brave pianist for all four - count 'em, four - song cycles on the program was the attentive Anne Kissel Harper, the true hero of the evening. Kissel Harper attacked the Rorem fearlessly and went lush into the Schumann set. Her best work, though, was the thoughtful, subtle pianism she supplied in the Pinkham and the fine accompanying of her husband Joe Dan in the Beethoven cycle, which truly soared and sparkled.

Florestan Recital Project's upcoming "Evidence of Things Not Seen" is on Saturday, January 11 at 8p.m. at the Community Music Center, 34 Warren Ave.


South End News
October 17, 2002 [Vol. 23, No. 39]

Music Center home to two wonderful series
by Stephen Marc Beaudoin, Classical Correspondent

In Robert Schumann's solo piano cycle Carnaval, opus 9, the sixth movement opens with a quick, relentless motif in the right hand; restless, breathless and searching. The movement is called "Florestan," after one of Shumann's alter-ego characters. Florestan, the extrovert, Florestan the romantic, Florestan.

"Was the fiery, revolutionary one," quipped pianist Anne Kissel Harper over coffee and scones on a recent Monday morning. "Also, we chose the name Florestan because all three of [the founding members] had such a strong affinity for Schumann's lieder," added her husband, baritone Joe Dan Harper.

And so an organization was born. The tree performers - Mr. and Mrs. Harper and baritone Aaron Engebreth - met as artists with the Handel and Haydn Society and Boston Academy of Music. They decided to turn their love for the classical song repertoire into something more tangible by creating a presenting organization for singers and instrumentalists interested in exploring the genre.

With one season now under their belt, the Florestan Recital Project is planning an ambitious second season beginning November 16, most of it in residence at the South End's Community Music Center of Boston, with one foray (though not with Fauré - just yet) to the Church of the Advent on Beacon Hill.

"We looked at a lot of spaces, but the Community Music Center of Boston's space is so nice and intimate, it's just perfect for what we are doing," commented Joe Dan Harper.

Anne jumps in: "You really feel like you're in someone's living room. I don't think a lot of people have experienced that intimacy - they're used to going to Symphony Hall or Jordan Hall. But here they're so close to the musicians."

"They're going to see everything," Joe Dan exclaims, finishing his wife's sentence. "For the performers it can be a bit unnerving!"

But the extremely capable performers they've assembled for the season are more than up to the task. Included on the roster are personalities as varied as Heinrich Christensen (music director at historic King's Chapel), soprano Caprice Corona, mezzo-sopranos Jessica Bowers and Krista River and tenor Jason McStoots, in addition to the founders and other guests, totaling a roster of about 20 for the season. And speaking of their season, what does the Project have in store for its listeners in their second year?

"We couldn't resist the temptation this year of celebrating the birthday of Dan Pinkham - our advisor and guardian angel - who's turning 80 this year. and when we realized that Ned Rorem was also turning 80, we just couldn't pass up the opportunity to celebrate their works together this season.

Pinkham and Rorem are giants in the song literature, with more than 400 songs to their credit between them. The two met as composition fellows at Tanglewood in the summer of 1946 and have remained friends since, partly (at least) because of their shared affinity for song.

"Dan Pinkham" has been very active, from the beginning, as our advisor. Dan asked us if we wanted to try to get Ned [Rorem] on board of this project, and we said 'Yes, if we can call him up and ask him anything, any time.' [Rorem] has been very kind to us, and we hope to have him even more actively involved with the group in the future."

This year begins November 16 with a program titled "Women's Voices," after a Ned Rorem song cycle using texts by women from the 15th through 20th centuries. Also included on that program are other works from the female perspective, including Schumann's "Frauenliebe und Leben" ("Woman's Love and Life"), Pinkham's "The Song of Jephthah's Daughter" and "Music in the Manger." There will also be a pre-concert lecture by women's literature specialist Rebecca Boggs.

"We hope to have some of our composers speak at the concerts. We've commissioned a work by composer Lior Navok, "A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass," which we'll be premiering, with help from the St. Botolph Club, on our May concert."

"Our first goal, always, is to do high-quality and interesting work," Mr. Harper continued. "We strive to have programs that are cohesive but diverse."


The Boston Globe
Friday, April 5, 2002

Classical Picks
by Richard Dyer

The Florestan Recital Project performs songs by American students of Nadia Boulanger tomorrow at 8 in the Community Music Center at 34 Warren Ave., Boston.


The Boston Globe
Friday, January 18, 2002

Classical Notes
by Richard Dyer

Three young Boston-based musicians have created a new ensemble to present the vocal recital literature - the Florestan Recital Project. The founders are two baritones, Joe Dan Harper and Aaron Engebreth, and pianist Anne Kissel Harper. The group makes its debut tomorrow night at 8 in the Community Music Center in the South End, with additional programs Feb. 3 at the Longy School of Music and April 6 back in the Community Music Center. This season's programs feature songs by American pupils of the great French music teacher Nadia Boulanger. Tomorrow's program presents works by Leaonard Bernstein, Virgil Thomson, Theodore Chanler, Daniel Pinkham, and Boulanger herself; guest artists include mezzo Sandra Piques Eddy and pianist Linda Osborn-Blaschke. Later programs feature such additional guests as soprano Sarah Pelletier and Janna Baty, tenor Alan Schneider, and pianist John McDonald, and the composers include Paul Bowles, Aaron Copland, Marc Blitzstein, John Duke, Elliott Carter, David Diamond, Thomas Pasatieri, Ned Rorem, and Irving Fine.

Florestan Recital Project, 84 Ashcroft Road, Medford, MA 02155