Review Archive

A complete archive of reviews of works by Gordon Getty.


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We strive to include every professional review in this space. If you know of one not found here, forward it to us and we will send you a complimentary recording as our thanks.

Usher House, Opera Warhorses

Usher House
Opera Warhorses

I found both Getty's libretto and music to be effective in presenting an augmented version of Poe's tale. It worked well that the character of Madeline Usher, Roderick's sister who was entombed a few days too early, was assigned to a dancer (Jamielyn Duggan), with Madeline's voice sung by Illinois soprano Jacqueline Piccolino.

Getty, though now in his early 80s, has spoken about composing another opera (he mentions the subject of Oscar Wilde's “Canterville Ghost”) as a companion piece. One could imagine such a double bill being staged by opera companies (especially with ghostly appearances such as in Haneke's projections) in the weeks of late October.

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Three Christmas Carols, December Celebration: New Carols by Seven American Composers, Oxingale Music

Stephen Smoliar, December Celebration
Oxingale Music

Getty also contributed a rather lush arrangement of “Silent Night,” which presents the text in English and French as well as German. This is definitely an innovative approach to what is probably the most venerable warhorse in the Christmas repertoire.

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Four Dickinson Songs, The Hours Begin to Sing, Fanfare

Lynn René Bayley, Fanfare, The Hours Begin to Sing

Here — even more strongly than in the previous works — the flow of the music is more dictated by the flow of the words than vice versa. The result is more strophic music, fascinating in its tension and release from phrase to phrase, clearly the work of a mature composer in full control of his material…. Getty's music, here, has the fine delicacy of Dresden china and a rhythmic quirkiness fully in keeping with Dickinson's equally quirky word-painting, and nowhere is this clearer than in the final song, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”…A disc well worth acquiring. All of these pieces are good, with pride of place going to the Heggie and Getty song cycles.

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Four Dickinson Songs, The Hours Begin to Sing, Fanfare

David DeBoor Canfield, Fanfare, The Hours Begin to Sing

The poetry of Emily Dickinson has been set by many composers very effectively, and Gordon Getty proves himself worthy to be in their company. These elegant settings of her “Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers,” “There's a Certain Slant of Light,” “A Bird Came Down the Walk,” and “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” all distill the essence of Dickinson's lyrical poetry.

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Plump Jack, Fanfare

Henry Fogel, Fanfare, Plump Jack

Lynn René Bayley reviewed this recording of Plump Jack in Fanfare 36:1, and I would second virtually everything she said. Plump Jack as presented here in a concert version loses two of its scenes completely, and parts of others. My guess is that the purpose was to make it fit on a single disc. The loss of continuity is a bit frustrating. But the music is attractive, and very well written for the voice (Gordon Getty is a classic opera ‘nut,' a collector of vocal recordings with considerable knowledge). The music may not stamp itself in the listener's ear with a truly distinctive voice, but it is music that anyone who enjoys the more conservative trends in contemporary opera is likely to enjoy. Plump Jack is Getty's treatment of Falstaff, and if it doesn't measure up to Verdi's, one would not expect it to. But it is boisterous, colorful, at times sweet and tender.

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Plump Jack, Fanfare

Colin Clarke, Fanfare, Plump Jack

The score of Plump Jack, which pays homage to Shakespeare (taking Henry IV, Parts One and Two as source material), took around 30 years to see the full light of day. This PentaTone release presents the trimmed-down concert version, in which (for example) the first scene is not included. Certain scenes seem rather tacked together in this format, and it would certainly be interesting to compare and contrast with the full version at some future point. There is a decidedly film music slant to the Overture…(Getty is quite open in his booklet notes about his debt to film music.) There is wit here too, almost as if Getty wishes to depict cartoon-style goings on… True, there are passages which seem to lose direction in the Overture, and not all of the opera is of a consistently high level of inspiration (there is a tendency to the episodic and not all of the melodic lines are particularly memorable), but this remains an impressive achievement.

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Usher House, Opera News

David J. Baker, Usher House
Opera News

The very first notes of Usher House reveal what must have drawn composer Gordon Getty to Poe's tale. The original Fall of the House of Usher, published in 1839, overplays its gothic horrors, but it also bathes in atmosphere. It's the story's haunted setting, its hints of decay and secrets, that the music evokes from the start with economy, immediacy, and apparent spontaneity.

Wavy woodwind fragments, chromatically flavored, flit about like unwelcome memories as Edgar Allan Poe himself — turned into a character in Getty's libretto — arrives at an isolated, dilapidated manor house to visit Roderick Usher, an old school friend. Traded off to other instruments, the moody elements of the accessible, mostly diatonic score are never long absent, even though Getty varies the claustrophobic moods with warmer, more conventional devices such as a tuneful ball scene and a love song. (Some of the triple-meter tunes manage to combine both modes, romantic and gothic.)

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Usher House, International Record Review

Raymond S. Tuttle, International Record Review, Usher House

He is a real composer. His style is proudly tonal, although there are, as he says, “hints of atonality, such as any composer would likely use to suggest a degree of disorientation”…I think Usher House is his most expressive work yet…My understanding is that Usher House will receive its premiere later this year by the Welsh National Opera. I suspect that it will work rather well.

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Usher House, Fanfare

Lynn René Bayley, Fanfare, Usher House

I wanted to review this CD because I am enough of a Gordon Getty fan that I like to hear everything he has written…Unlike Plump Jack, Getty's music here can stand on its own as a listening experience without the need to see the action. It is tonal but not “obviously” melodic; as the late Moondog (Louis Hardin) might have said, “I am considered avant-garde in rhythm but old-fashioned in harmony,” but Getty uses neighboring tonalities in a very creative manner, whereas Moondog did not. Moreover, the music morphs and develops in interesting ways…There is a certain strophic character about the sung lines in the first scene, and the orchestration is exceedingly clever, supporting the voices or commenting on the drama in turn. When Roderick suggests having a ball, for instance, the rhythm changes to 3/4 time and a quirky waltz melody arises; when he talks of the landscape around the house as being desolate, the orchestra reflects this in both its melodic and timbral treatment. This sort of thing continues throughout the opera, the sign of an assured composer who understands his art and knows exactly how to morph and change the music, not only in such a way that it supports or echoes the drama but also to keep the listener onthe edge of the seat. This is first-class music…While Getty's rewriting of this fictional story for dramatic purposes is imaginative and creative, my personal feeling is that an already somewhat incredulous tale has been taken to the level of Gothic fiction, of undead ancestors and “forces of evil” that border on vampire and ghoul stories. Yet the opera is highly entertaining, and I was entranced by Getty's spectacular ability to create such a wonderful atmosphere and sustain it for 67 minutes. This is a real tour de force, certainly the best and most sustained musical creation of his I have heard, and as such I recommend your listening to it.

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Usher House, Fanfare

Henry Fogel, Fanfare, Usher House

Usher House is [Getty's] treatment of Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, and it is a more edgy work. Poe is introduced into the drama in the role of narrator telling the story. Getty has made other adjustments…He actually makes the Ushers more appealing and likeable than they are in Poe (or in Glass's opera), and the horror of the ending is all the more dramatic because we have been attracted to them. The music is darker than [Getty's] Plump Jack, as is appropriate for the story. One hears echoes of Bartók, Debussy, and Mahler in the writing. But the score is not mere copying of others' music. Even if Getty has not developed a strong musical voice that one can identify as his, it is not music that sounds like a rehashing of someone else's. Poe's monologue beginning “Where is my lady, O where has she gone?” is eloquent and beautiful, and stays in the memory. Usher House takes longer to get to know than the more immediately appealing Plump Jack, but its rewards may well be deeper. The more I returned to it, the more I enjoyed it. In addition to Getty's typically strong vocal writing, the orchestration of this work is imaginative and colorful…Usher House merits exploration on the part of anyone interested in hearing a conservative but imaginative voice in contemporary opera.

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Joan and the Bells, A Prayer for My Daughter, Ancestor Suite, SF Gate

Joshua Kosman, A Prayer for My Daughter
SF Gate

Monday's event included a few spoken words of tribute from Thomas and guest star Plácido Domingo, but, for the most part, the emphasis was on music, including Getty's own. Among other offerings, the concert included the first performance of “A Prayer for My Daughter,” Getty's resourceful and often lovely choral setting of Yeats' poem.

Getty's compositions have never been noted for their daring or stylistic inventiveness; they are steeped in traditional forms and harmonies, and operate cautiously within those bounds. But his most appealing work - the 1998 cantata “Joan and the Bells” - boasts a wonderful level of fluency and imagination.

“A Prayer for My Daughter,” which packs Yeats' expansive poem into a terse 11-minute span, is another of Getty's alluring creations. From its turbulent opening depiction of a howling rainstorm through the poet's more abstract musings and on to the final evocation of a marriage ceremony, Getty continually finds a musical vein to reflect the shifting character of each of the poem's eight stanzas.

There are elegant touches of word painting along the way - particularly the big choral harmony in response to Yeats' phrase “magnanimities of sound” - and an ingenious use of the orchestra. Ragnar Bohlin's Symphony Chorus delivered the piece with energy and precision.

“A Prayer for My Daughter” was the last of Getty's pieces on the program, following the slender charms of fourEmily Dickinson settings delivered by soprano Lisa Delan and pianist Robin Sutherland, and three short orchestral movements from “Ancestor Suite.” It brought Getty onstage to receive a big, loving ovation from the audience.

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Usher House, American Record Guide

Ralph Lucano, American Record Guide, Usher House

Best to take the composer's words to heart before listening: "Directors and interpreters are entreated not to research the original, or biographies of Poe, for clues to motivation or personality." Poe's words begin and end the libretto, but just about everything in between has been contrived by Getty himself. The central character is still Roderich Usher, but the doctor who treats his sister Madeline has been given a name, Primus, and may or may not be a relative hundreds of years old. The narrator of the story has become Poe himself, and he's often referred to, jarringly, as "Eddie." Nothing much happens in Poe's tale–it's all gloom and atmosphere until the macabre ending–and nothing much happens in Getty's far less atmospheric makeover, where darkness does not pour forth. Poe visits the courtly Roderick, Primus Usher suggests that he has a plan to perpetuate the family line, Madeline sings "ah" in the distance, and a ball is held, attended by possibly ghostly ancestors. Getty's most interesting gloss on the original is to have the first Usher house (near Exeter in England) condemned and torn down by Edward the Confessor, then rebuild somewhere near Savannah, where it destroys itself again after the joint demise of Roderick and Madeline. 

None of it is really scary or oppressive. The music starts getting a bit spooky in Scene 1, when Roderick talks about the party guests coming "from the depths of the house;" but it's pretty conventional spookiness, with wails from the high strings amid some xylophone punctuation. One quickly starts to ache for some richer, louder orchestral sounds. The vocal lines are not memorable or melodic in any way, even in the fake-Poe ballad "Where is My Lady." It's all heightened speech, straightforward enough and easy to understand but not operatic. Poe's overwrought prose might be hard to take seriously, but it casts a spell of its own, and all those words create a palpable ambiance: one feels the "iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart." Getty's music does not capture Poe's tone at all, and by changing and simplifying so much, he has merely managed to make the story boring. 

The performance, recorded in Lisbon, is quite good. German tenor Elsner sings excellent English and takes advantage of the few opportunities to let his voice ring out. Dupuis's high baritone is a pleasure to hear, and his words are always clear. Ens's mellow bass is just right for the sinister doctor. The soprano has almost nothing to do except to vocalize a bit. PBS's honey-voiced "Sherlock," Benedict Cumberbatch, is wasted in the speaking role of the Attendant, one assumes the conductor is committed to his task, and Pentatone's sound is excellent. A libretto is supplied. 

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Four Dickinson Songs, The Hours Begin to Sing, International Record Review

William Hedley, International Record Review, The Hours Begin to Sing

This is the first music I have heard by Gordon Getty, famous for another reason, and the impression is favourable. Emily Dickinson's verse is sparing with words and the subject matter narrow. Getty's equally sparing music proves an effective vehicle, with the old-fashioned virtue of aiming to complement or enhance the meaning. It is a brave composer indeed who decides to take on Copland by setting “Because I could not stop for death.” Getty refers to the “clip-clop of the hearse carriage,” and indeed the early part of the poet's journey “toward eternity” is jaunty and sounds like fun. The setting makes more sense as it progresses, and the short piano postlude is highly effective.

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Four Dickinson Songs, The Hours Begin to Sing, Audiophile Audition

Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition, The Hours Begin to Sing

I reviewed Lisa Delan's first issue in this “series” back in 2009, And If the Song be Worth a Smile. I said then “I am not sure I have heard a finer American song album since Songs of America made its debut on Nonesuch about 20 years ago.” Well, guess what? I can say it again, with a lot of confidence. Not that it is better than the last one—that is too difficult a call to make—but it is certainly the equal.

We have four more songs from the intensely talented and lyrical genius Jake Heggie, this time a little dark and creepy (with the addition of cello), but still affecting and marvelously intrepid in his ability to match words and text. This time the text is by poet Galway Kinnell, and I would not be lying if I said Kinnell's work is actually improved by Heggie, and there is not a lot of poetry you can say that about. William Bolcom returns as well, again with five more of his Cabaret Songs, and Arnold Weinstein's poetry has never enjoyed such a sensitive treatment, his back room lyrics explored to the hilt by Bolcom's masterly music.

Four other composers are called back for encores. Gordon Getty is on his best and most infectious behavior with his Dickinson settings, perfectly nuanced to the unusual and often quirky pauses of Emily Dickinson in a way that perhaps only Aaron Copland could have managed. Woolf's unusual and evocative love poems by Rumi had to be a challenge as the words themselves are so highly perfumed to begin with. The brilliance of these settings is in the sparseness of the harmonies (also adding a cello), allowing Rumi to shine through in all his glory.

John Corigliano, whose own cabaret songs stood out in the last issue, takes a completely different road on this disc with some Irish folksong settings for voice and flute alone. This was in a response to his vigorous Pied Piper Fantasy way back in 1982 for James Galway. This time he wanted to test a more intimate environment and the results are hauntingly beautiful. Finally, David Garner graces us with his Klezmer-like Vilna Poems, sung in Yiddish with the addition this time of clarinet and cello, to poems by the great Avrom Sutzkever, who lived in the Vilna ghetto for two years before escaping to the forests with his wife. Particularly noteworthy is the exceptional and wailing clarinet of David Krakauer.

Lisa Delan is still the master of this sort of recital, even more affecting and in control than the last album. I for one will be thrilled if there is yet another and I can't think of any reason why there won't be. Pentatone again proves that intimate chamber music can be well-served by judicious use of the surround-sound microphones. Outstanding!

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Plump Jack, Epoch Times

Barry Bassis, Plump Jack
Epoch Times

Although it will never supplant Verdi's Falstaff, Getty's work has considerable appeal, especially the orchestral sections… While Getty incorporates some Renaissance music, most of the opera is more modern in tone and darker than the Verdi opera.

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Plump Jack, Music Web International

Paul Corfield Godfrey, Plump Jack
Music Web International

Most composers would give their eyeteeth to be wealthy enough to get their music performed without the hassle of continually seeking commissions or funding. Even for composers who are multi-millionaires like Gordon Getty life may not be a bed of roses. Then again, to do Getty credit, while he has poured substantial sums of money into music, he has not used his benefactions to promote his own music at the expense of others. The number of recordings of his music is small, but we have enough on disc to be able to judge that his music — written in a conservative but not reactionary style — is fully worthy of the accolade of performance…. Getty regards [Plump Jack] as his best score, but I personally much prefer works such as Victorian Scenes…which shows a much greater sense of ability in Getty's setting of words. Those, like myself, who admire Getty's music, will want to hear Plump Jack, but despite the discovery of some intermittently beautiful passages they should be prepared for disappointment too. Those who do not know Getty should investigate the discs of orchestral and choral music first.

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Plump Jack, Audiophile Audition

Lee Passarella, Audiophile Audition, Plump Jack

[This] can really be considered an ensemble opera. Not coincidentally, then, the crowd scenes are some of the best things about Plump Jack, mounted with skill that no mere weekend composer could muster…. I'd characterize Getty's music as post-Romantic. If you're familiar with the vocal music of Schreker, Korngold (in his darker moods), and d'Albert, you have a general idea of the style. The music is chromatic, with wisps of melody rather than full-blown tunes. There's little lyricism here; some of the text is more spoken than sung…. In sum, the story is a good one, and if Getty doesn't tell it with unfailing musical justice, the music for the two Henrys, the crowd scenes, the writing for the orchestra are all worth experiencing.

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Plump Jack, Opera News

Joshua Robertson, Plump Jack
Opera News

Gordon Getty's Falstaff opera, Plump Jack, has been gestating since at least 1985, when one early scene was performed with the San Francisco Symphony. Getty says he hears movie music in his opera more than any specific classical influences, and indeed, like the best film composers, he has a sure instinct for using bold, primary colors to tell a story. Even when his vocal melodies occasionally meander, the orchestra provides imaginative texture and characterization. And one always hears Getty's reverence for the beauty of Shakespeare's language. He adapted his libretto with great fidelity from the two Henry IV plays and Henry V. In general, Getty handles his self-avowedly conservative musical language with skill and sophistication. One standout passage is Henry IV's lament for what he foresees as the decline of the kingdom under his son Hal, a thoughtful, mournfully effective blend of vivid accompaniment with an expressive vocal line. Henry's deathbed scene is also emotionally potent; Getty seems to be at his most eloquent with the aging king…. The dramatic high point of the opera occurs when Hal…rebuffs his old crony Falstaff at the inauguration. The painful string tremolos deliver the message with cutting certainty, and the new king ends his long denunciation…on repeated, ringing high Gs…. [It] is an impressive contrast to his beautiful Scene 2 aria, a sincere, triadic and touching appeal to his father for forgiveness…. The “Lament for Falstaff” in the last scene starts with a brief funeral march…compelling enough that it could easily have been extended. Hostess Quickly describes Falstaff's death, amid harpsichord and clanging mallets, in a beautifully dramatized monologue… The score then turns rousing and military, leading to brass and full chorus. The materials for this end sequence are assembled and paced with a sure hand, and Getty has the courage to end the opera softly, rather than with a bang.

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Usher House, Epoch Times

Barry Bassis, Usher House
Epoch Times

Getty wrote his own libretto and takes considerable liberty with the text, to the extent of making Poe himself…a character in the opera. There is a sense of foreboding throughout the work.

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Traditional Pieces, San Francisco Classical Voice

Georgia Rowe, Four Traditional Pieces
San Francisco Classical Voice

Getty's lovely Four Traditional Pieces opened the program in a performance of disarming sonorities. Each episode in the quartet explores harmonic conventions through a distinctly nostalgic lens; the music's echoes of vivacious dance tunes and sweet, folk-tinged melodies recall the parlor songs of a bygone era. With Salerno-Sonnenberg spinning out the solo violin part with warm, yearning tone, the score made an apt curtain-raiser…

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Plump Jack, Opera Now

Michael White, Opera Now, Plump Jack

Plump Jack is Getty's addition to the growing library of operas based on the figure of Falstaff; and to be treading where masters from Verdi to Vaughan Williams have gone before (with varying success) is bold…His music doesn't dazzle with technical achievement or melodic richness. It can sound mechanical, congested, like Prokofiev without the tunes. But there's an urgency, a sharpness of attack, and a determination in the writing that excites the ear. It's not to be dismissed. When critics do dismiss it, one suspects an extra-musical agenda colouring their words.

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Plump Jack, All Music

Stephen Eddins, Plump Jack
All Music

Getty writes mostly in a lyrical post-Straussian idiom. The opera has many lovely sections, especially when characters are expressing tender emotion, and from moment to moment the music is engaging, but a sense of dramatic direction and momentum is missing. Getty's vocal writing is characteristic of many mid- to late 20th century American operas that use a conservative harmonic palette; it's pleasantly lyrical, a sort of heightened recitative that only rarely bursts into sustained, memorable gestures or melodies that drive the drama forward. The choral sections are some of the opera's most attractive, and the orchestration is skillful, varied, and inventive.

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Plump Jack, Fanfare

Lynn René Bayley, Fanfare, Plump Jack

I couldn't escape the feeling here that without a visual (stage) image to accompany it, this music — though well written — conveys more atmosphere than characterization. In fact, this is my general impression of the entire score (or, I should say, as much of it as is presented here). There is much to admire in Getty's imaginative use of modal harmonies, the richness of his orchestration using surprisingly simple forces, and his occasional use of authentic pieces from Shakespeare's time…but the broken-recitative style of much of the music mitigates against full enjoyment without seeing the characters onstage. In this respect, and I do not make the comparison lightly, Plump Jack is a work somewhat akin to Britten's Death in Venice…Getty also manages to evoke, without copying, Britten's mature style in the scene of Pistol's blustering (“Pistol's News”), who the composer compares to Yosemite Sam, and there is some truly dramatic, stabbing music in the banishment scene. I keep feeling that the orchestral music would also go better if this were a live performance. There is just too much of a stop-start, episodic feeling to it as a purely listening experience. What we really need is a Plump Jack DVD, and the whole score, in order to judge it more fairly. Yet in many ways, you can say the same thing of Verdi's Falsaff, so this is certainly not an indictment against Getty's composition. For those who enjoy Getty's music (and I am certainly one of them), this disc may very well be indispensable to your collection. For the rest, perhaps, maybe, we'll get the real, full Plump Jack and be able to fully involve ourselves in its wonderful if discursive musical intricacies.

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Plump Jack, American Record Guide

American Record Guide, Plump Jack

Getty may have been worried about writing too long an opera, but I would have welcomed more. He has a real knack for setting words well and sensibly…His spare orchestration can be quite vivid (as in the final scene). He compares much of what he writes to movie music, citing such characters as Sylvester, Tweety, Yosemite Sam, and Mr Magoo, which is perhaps carrying self-denigration too far. Plump Jack is far more sophisticated than anything from Looney Tunes and would probably be effective on stage for an audience already familiar with Shakespeare's plays. One of the most familiar lines from Henry V is given to Pistol: “O for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.” How bright a heaven Getty ascends should probably be decided by each individual listener. I loved Nell's heartfelt eulogy for the dead Falstaff, “Nay, sure, he's not in hell, he's in Arthur's bosom,” and the byplay among Falstaff, Bardolph, Shallow, and Pistol earlier on; the speeches of the two kings are rather stiff and less striking. We've reviewed quite a lot of Getty's music in ARG (check the index), and our critics have generally been positive. Here's another interesting recording to add to the list.

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Plump Jack, Klassik

Klassik, Plump Jack

(translated from German) The libretto and music at first glance take a story-telling attitude…It is hard to imagine that a staged version of the opera works well, but on the other hand it may work well indeed. Plump Jack clearly offers two things: a high class Shakespearean text and catchy music, the entertainment value of which should not be underestimated.

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Ancestor Suite, Homework Suite, Overture to Plump Jack, Tiefer und Tiefer, The Fiddler of Ballykeel, Raise the Colors, Orchestral Works, Audiophile Audition

John Sunier, Audiophile Audition, Orchestral Works

The vocal works of San Francisco-based Gordon Getty have been the major part of his compositional ouevre as well as previous recordings. So it is a change of pace here to focus strictly on the instrumental music of this composer who proclaims himself “two-thirds 19th century.” He writes in an essentially conservative style while observing: ‘“there's still a great deal to be said in C Major”…The opening overture is from probably his best-known work, his opera on Shakespeare's fat and funny character Falstaff. It is filled with good humor, but ends with a baleful sound representing Prince Hal's banishment of Falstaff. The eleven short sections of the Ancestor Suite are from a Getty ballet which was premiered in Moscow in 2009 and is based on the 1839 Poe short story The Fall of the House of Usher. Some of the movements sound perfectly tuneful and upbeat, while others have a subtle macabre edge to them as befits the stimulus for the ballet…The usual excellent hi-res surround quality provided by PentaTone makes it easy for those of us not heavily into vocal music to get a taste of the instrumental compositional style of Gordon Getty.

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Ancestor Suite, Homework Suite, Overture to Plump Jack, Tiefer und Tiefer, The Fiddler of Ballykeel, Raise the Colors, Orchestral Works, Music Web International

Dan Morgan, Orchestral Works
Music Web International

The rumbustious opening to Plump Jack instantly suggests Malcolm Arnold, but without the latter's volatility and wit. Simply scored, it's played with all the elegance one expects of this band. The recording is equally refined, the snare drum and harp wonderfully tactile and the brass well blended. It's enjoyable enough, albeit in a slightly anodyne way…Getty's Ancestor Suite, from his ballet based on Poe's Fall of the House of Usher, is well crafted but ultimately rather leaden—not at all what one expects from a dance score. There are pleasing instrumental touches, the vaulting brass figures in the Waltz – Ländler especially attractive, and there are more than a few memories of Copland at his most homespun. As for the Polka – Polonaise, there's a hint of Arnold's Tam O'Shanter, the ensuing Gavotte most gracefully turned…”

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Ancestor Suite, Homework Suite, Overture to Plump Jack, Tiefer und Tiefer, The Fiddler of Ballykeel, Raise the Colors, Orchestral Works, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Anna Reguero, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Orchestral Works

Not many contemporary composers call themselves two-thirds 19th Century in style, but San Francisco composer Getty makes no apologies for his use of traditional composition techniques. Nonetheless, his compositions are anything but regurgitated material. There are always surprises and unique colors to be found, always written with detailed attention to orchestration and character. This PentaTone Classics release paints Getty as someone adept in varied styles, from opera suites to busy marches, and from transparent textures to colorful marches.

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Ancestor Suite, Homework Suite, Overture to Plump Jack, Tiefer und Tiefer, The Fiddler of Ballykeel, Orchestral Works, Buffalo News

Jeff Simon, Buffalo News, Orchestral Works

A scrupulous and appealing performance of Getty's charming, if unremarkable, music…

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Ancestor Suite, Homework Suite, Overture to Plump Jack, Tiefer und Tiefer, The Fiddler of Ballykeel, Orchestral Works, The Flip Side

Kevin Filipski, Orchestral Works
The Flip Side

Gordon Getty…composes facile but propulsive music, to which this CD makes a good introduction. In the space of 12 minutes, the delectable overture to his opera Plump Jack, based on Shakespeare's immortal Falstaff, creates a juicy musical characterization of the Bard's unforgettable fat man. The discs' other works, which include the Ancestor Suite and the Homework Suite, have the same attractive qualities as the overture, and they are all played robustly by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner.

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Ancestor Suite, Homework Suite, Overture to Plump Jack, Tiefer und Tiefer, The Fiddler of Ballykeel, Raise the Colors, Orchestral Works, Fanfare

Lynn René Bayley, Fanfare, Orchestral Works

Gordon Getty, who describes himself as “two-thirds a 19th-century composer,” is nevertheless a creative and original one and, as this CD proves, the other one-third makes its presence felt often enough to provide interest and flexibility…. The performances by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields display this orchestra's metamorphosis from its chamber roots in the 1960s to its more robust sound today. PentaTone's sound, undeniably resonant as a result of SACD mastering, is nevertheless clear and transparent at all times.

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Poor Peter, And If the Song Be Worth A Smile, San Francisco Classical Voice

Jason Victor Serinus, And If the Song Be Worth A Smile
San Francisco Classical Voice

These three songs are immensely enjoyable. Sung with considerable feeling by Delan, the songs in Getty's vision of Elizabethan England (or thereabouts) are distinguished by haunting lyricism and, in “Tune the Fiddle,” by body-engaging rhythms.

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Poor Peter, And If the Song Be Worth A Smile, Music Web International

Dominy Clements, And If the Song Be Worth A Smile

Gordon Getty's set of three songs Poor Peter is well crafted…

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Ancestor Suite, Homework Suite, Overture to Plump Jack, Tiefer und Tiefer, The Fiddler of Ballykeel, Raise the Colors, Orchestral Works, San Francisco Classical Voice

Jason Victor Serinus, Orchestral Works
San Francisco Classical Voice

A joyful experience, overflowing with lovely, richly scored pieces…Listening to this disc would be a genial way to spend the afternoon.

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Ancestor Suite, Homework Suite, Overture to Plump Jack, Tiefer und Tiefer, The Fiddler of Ballykeel, Orchestral Works, Diverdi

Benjamin Fontvella, Diverdi, Orchestral Works

(Translated from Spanish) Gordon Getty says of himself that he is “seventy percent a nineteenth century composer,” and so he is, but it appears that the other thirty percent channels Copland, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky, and that isn't a bad thing…The truth is that these pieces are very enjoyable: his music is sweet, delicate, simple, easy, and sentimental. That this approach is the most hated by the old guard of the 1970s and today's academia doesn't seem to keep people from enjoying it…Those who like to listen to all kinds of music…can have a good time with this disc.

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Ancestor Suite, Homework Suite, Overture to Plump Jack, Tiefer und Tiefer, The Fiddler of Ballykeel, Orchestral Works, Gooi en Eemlander

Hans Visser, Gooi en Eemlander, Orchestral Works

Gordon Getty is mainly known for his vocal works but that he writes very well for orchestra proves the CD Orchestral Works. Neville Marriner leads the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in contemporary music that touches the listener surprisingly well. It begins with the overture to his opera Plump Jack. American Getty, in his sixties, does not feel embarrassed to say that for two/thirds he stands in the nineteenth century. That other part is responsible for the fact that his music sounds everything but old-fashioned. Stravinsky, Copland and Prokofiev have inspired him here and there without affecting his originality. For example the Ancestor Suite smells very American although it is a series of old European dances: waltz, Scottish dance, polka, gavotte and sarabande. It is very colourful composed ballet-music, inspired by the story The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe. A beauty is Tiefer und Tiefer for strings. What a splendid intense sounding simplicity. The Homework Suite opens seductively with an oboe part, followed in the other small movements with beautiful, dancing-like roles for the other soloists. With The Fiddler of Ballykeel he refers catchingly to a neighbourhood near Belfast where his ancestors came from. Raising the Colors is a beautiful fanfare-like encore for brass, virtuoso finished with wood and strings. Not only in super audio this music is a surprise.

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The White Election, Classical CD Review

Classical CD Review, The White Election

Gems don't make jewelry. The most blinding fact about Gordon Getty is his share of the Getty fortune. In many ways, it has obscured his work. Getty came to study composition in his late twenties, somewhat after most composers get started. Despite his training, he has never struck me as a professional composer in the sense that someone like Morton Gould was -- rather a gifted amateur, most comfortable with small forms. Perhaps the fact that he's never had to earn a living at it has hindered him, although money certainly never hindered Elliot Carter. On the other hand, his music certainly stands apart from various academic trends. Primarily a vocal composer, Getty turns out mainly small pieces. The White Election is one of his more extensive works and probably one of his most performed.

I'm probably not the person from whom to expect a sympathetic review, since I dislike most of Emily Dickinson's poetry. The monotony of the hymn meters drives me nuts, and I often feel as if she's merely pushing around Big Words, a kind of fill-in-the-blanks. No poet myself, I can nevertheless fall into her idiom very easily:

If angels dance around the sky

In Immortality,

To lie stock-still in bed would be

Anathema to me.

I have no idea what it means, since it might mean so many things, and furthermore I wrote it just now, in under two minutes. Can anybody tell me by internal evidence why it wouldn't be included in an Emily Dickinson anthology? Consequently, for me a composer must find both a way to subvert her rhythms as well as a musical line interesting in itself, since the poems by and large don't interest me in themselves. In both respects, Ernst Bacon's Dickinson's settings seem right to me, as does Aaron Copland's magnificent cycle 12 Poems by Emily Dickinson, a monument of American art song.

Getty gets through with mixed results. He began with the conceit that Dickinson wrote the poems to be sung to melodies she composed. It's not a far-fetched notion. We do know she was musical and liked to improvise at the piano. Getty accordingly comes up with an idiom that links to 19th-century parlor music with some surprises thrown in, a musical equivalent of Dickinson's verse. It reminds me greatly of Virgil Thomson's faux-naïveté. Accompaniments are generally simple, sometimes downright sparse. Following Thomson is no easy task, and Getty does pretty well without falling into mere imitation. I consider every individual song sensitively, often beautifully, set. The problem is, with thirty-two of them, Getty doesn't escape the charge of repetitiveness. Too many songs fall into the Dickinson trademark rhythm. Getty overuses certain melodic tropes, blameless in themselves ("mi-sol-do-mi" started to grate on me after a while). Certainly, Getty wants a complete recording, but I question whether he's written a real cycle. I don't find a meta-narrative that takes in the whole, as I do in Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. One could switch songs from one of the four major sections to another, and not affect the overall impression of the cycle at all. One listens to the entire piece with difficulty, although in short bursts it's fine. Thank goodness for programmable CD players.

I complain not at all about the performers. Soprano Lisa Delan sings beautifully, with careful attention to the musical phrasing and to the meaning of the poems. Few sing English words better than she. Getty has given the pianist little to do, but Fritz Steinegger gets more meaning into a single note than I'll bet even the composer knew was there.

S.G.S. (April 2010)

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Poor Peter, And If the Song Be Worth A Smile, Sequenza21

Phil Muse, And If The Song Be Worth A Smile
Sequenza 21

Gordon Getty's settings of three of his own poems, ranging from the delicate tracery of Where is My Lady, (“In footfall and starfall again and again, / beauty and grace she is, beauty and grace / Hang in the air like chimes when she goes by”) to the rousing, stamping high spirits of Tune the Fiddle and the poignant sense of pristine beauty lost in, bring forth an impressive range of interpretive responses from Delan, in collaboration with the sensitive accompaniment of pianist Kristin Pankonin. “Upon a day, along a way, / I met a child. / She said, “˜Come find me if you can: / you lost me when the world began.' / I asked her meaning but she ran / into the wild.”


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The White Election, American Record Guide

American Record Guide, The White Election

Gordon Getty (b. 1933) has written mostly for the voice, and The White Election stands as a clear masterpiece...Each work here is a small jewel and should please just about anyone, whether you're familiar with Emily Dickinson's poetry or not.

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The White Election, Fanfare

Fanfare, The White Election

Getty is a skilled and imaginative composer who does, in fact, use dissonance to create tension and, as he says, "to suggest a degree of disorientation." His music is melodic, often tuneful, but always well crafted...

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The White Election, Opera News

Joshua Rosenblum, The White Election
Opera News

With only a few exceptions, the songs are simple–even simplistic, as if the compower were channeling music that Dickinson herself, an amateur pianist and singer, could have come up with for her own poems. As Getty puts it in the notes, “I have set them, in large part, just as Emily might have if her music had found a balance between tradition and iconoclasm something like that in her poems.”

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The White Election, Buffalo News

Mary Kunz Goldman, The White Election
Buffalo News

Getty, in this well-traveled 1981 song cycle, wisely matches the poetry's no-frills tone...It's touching how he takes her words to heart. 


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Poor Peter, And If the Song Be Worth A Smile, Opera News

Joanne Sydney Lessner, And If The Song Be Worth A Smile
Opera News

Getty gives [soprano Lisa Delan] room to soar, particularly in “Where is my Lady?”

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Plump Jack, San Francisco Classical Voice

Robert P. Commanday, Plump Jack
San Francisco Classical Voice

Opera throughout its first three centuries has depended on private underwriting, aristocratic and otherwise. Where before has the composer himself been the patron? And why not?

Plump Jack, San Francisco composer and philanthropist Gordon Getty's favorite obsession, has gone far as a piece since its 1984 San Francisco Symphony premiere. While writing other pieces, Getty has worked and reworked it continuously. Lines have been simplified, music adjusted and replaced, orchestration revised, and other trims made, similar to the "editing " musicals and even some operas regularly undergo.

So it was that an essentially new opera, born, cultivated, and fledged in San Francisco, took off on a great journey last week — and probably a unique operatic adventure. Getty's Plump Jack, with a crack cast, put in first in Albuquerque, where the New Mexico Symphony, a solid orchestra, took it under its wing, playing most of Act II in concert May 11 and 12. Next stop, Mazatlán, Mexico, for the entire opera in concert at the jewel-box 19th-century Angela Peralta Theater last Friday, the cast joining up with a new yet surprisingly sharp symphony orchestra and opera chorus from Culiacán (the capital of Sinaloa province). Who knew?

It went over very well with the audience of largely local residents who had streamed in from a lively, colorful old-town plaza, filling the theater, anticipation high. Supratitles in Spanish conveyed the sense of the strictly Shakespeare text (mostly from Henry IV), and the eight visiting American singers brought the intricate play alive. This is a veritable pageant with vivid characterizations and a complex score, a tough order to bring off in concert, minus the 16th-century costumery, Shakespeare-styled scenery, and broad stage caperings — the rowdy roistering of the outrageous Sir John Falstaff, Pistol, Bardolph, Nell Quickly, and company. Yet, with the high-powered baritone Steven Condy as Falstaff front and center, setting the broad vocal and gestural scale of the performance, and with conductor Gordon Campbell's orchestra keeping Getty's high-contrast sonic "staging" on track, the piece worked.

Condy produced a torrent of energy, a whole glossary of Falstaffian gestures and mercurial changes in expression and voice. From sly, undertone asides to climactic rousing high Gs, his baritone was potent and pervasive. He was Falstaff — Getty's Plump Jack.

The pageant opera courses through 12 scenes, two or three of them a little slow. Getty sets up the glorious excesses and consequences of Falstaff's riotous behavior and Prince Hal's involvement with that gang. Hal then repents and promises his aged and declining father, Henry IV, to reform. The fine tenor Robert Breault captured the opera's first telling moment, singing Hal's "I promise thee" and ending on a pianissimo high G. That is exactly paralleled or echoed when Hal later promises himself to banish Falstaff.

Playing the role of his father in comic play in the Boar's Head Inn, Hal had denounced the fat knight in every cutting way. Falstaff responded with his great scena, an aria that drives to its climax with the words "banish Plump Jack and banish all the world!" the last on a triumphing high G. Then in response but just to himself, Hal sings, "I do ... I will." The second words are on that self-same soft high G of his earlier promise. Following that, the first act concludes with Nell Quickly's declaration of love, touching the feelings as Zheng Cao sang it. Falstaff departs for Gloucestershire, ducking out of fighting in Henry IV's war against the rebels.

The opera's high point occurs after Falstaff has rushed to Westminster on the news of Henry IV's death, expecting to be embraced and elevated by the newly crowned Henry V. He is instead rejected and banished. The suspense at that moment is great, helped by the chorus' singing and shouting as a crowd and the orchestra's strong brass gestures. Breault made Hal's rejection of Falstaff devastating, his tenor lancing in clarion tones, his lines alternately pianissimo and raging forte. Condy dropped limp onto his chair in Plump Jack's sudden deflation, the single defeat of an indomitably pretentious life. It was a stirring moment, underscored with plangent music in the strings. The scene ends with the chorus chanting the "Agnus Dei ... Dona Nobis Pacem" that concluded the Mass of coronation.

Another strong juxtaposition followed, Pistol's announcement of Henry V's impending invasion of France and Henry V giving the rallying call to arms, cutting to the scene of Falstaff's cronies, grieving over the knight's impending death. "The king hath killed his heart," they sing. Then Zheng Cao was most moving with Quickly's poignant aria about his death. Without pause, we hear the English soldiers marching off to go to France, the "Agincourt Song" sung, a fleeting impression of bagpipes in the orchestra. The chorus bids them "Adieu ... Away, away" and sings a touching, soft, drawn-out "Farewell" to the troops, and implicitly to Falstaff, as well. The close is affecting. Getty's musical idiom is tonal, but not 19th century by a long shot, no more than that of others who write operas in the tonal idiom today: André Previn, Jake Heggie, Dominick Argento, and so on. The keys shift colorfully, the harmony stays on course, and the orchestration, vastly improved with Getty's reworkings over more than 20 years, is effective. Much of the musical continuity (and dramatic commentary) is in the orchestra as it supports the sung dramatic narrative. That in itself is too angular, disjunct, and often propulsive to be called simply "recitative." There is

Getty's musical idiom is tonal, but not 19th century by a long shot, no more than that of others who write operas in the tonal idiom today: André Previn, Jake Heggie, Dominick Argento, and so on. The keys shift colorfully, the harmony stays on course, and the orchestration, vastly improved with Getty's reworkings over more than 20 years, is effective. Much of the musical continuity (and dramatic commentary) is in the orchestra as it supports the sung dramatic narrative. That in itself is too angular, disjunct, and often propulsive to be called simply "recitative." There is generous and catchy melody in the orchestra, thematic elements that are expressive and recalled in association with dramatic ideas or moods, some that really stick. The overture introducing most of these is nicely done, but it's too long at 10 minutes.

The challenge for orchestra and singers alike is the rhythm, the score's constant change of tempo, the mercurial dialogue. Between the speech pattern of the Shakespeare text and the dramatic punctuation of that speech by the instruments, the music is exceptionally tricky. With all that in consideration, the clean performance that this large Mexican-American ensemble pulled off was impressive. Gordon Campbell, who has been drawing considerable talent from afar into this 62-piece orchestra, kept a firm rein on the ensemble and continuity. His orchestra musicians, of many nationalities, performed well. So did Sergio Martinez Chávez's 3-year-old opera chorus of 32 good singers. All Mexicans, they remained on top of the English text, much of it in fast dramatic responses.

A larger issue is the structural one. The opera wants a big line, a sweep, continuity, but the separation into a dozen scenes breaks the flow. Musical transitions between the scenes would help as might stronger, finality-defining cadences, or even scenic blackouts.

A Seasoned Cast

The eight principal singers, with their craft and significant experience, did much to compensate for that problem. Zheng Cao has sung six major roles with San Francisco Opera. Bass-baritone Bojan Knezevic, admired in his five major parts for the S.F. Opera, sang the role of the serving-man Davy with a strong, lusty fervor. He was also Henry IV, of an earnest dignity, his rich, deep voice conveying nobility. Tyler Nelson, a young tenor living in Florida, did a captivating number on Justice Shallow. His diction was impeccable and his animation as the silly, ridiculous squire won for him alone laughs that were independent of the lines. His bright, keenly focused, vibrant tenor invites Mozart. He has a big future.

Michael Dean played Falstaff's "lieutenant" Pistol, not as the scruffy rascal seen in the play but, in Getty's view of him, as an "important" stalwart show-off and a kind of herald. Dean's robust, resonant baritone was commanding, with a full and focused sonority. Mischa (for Michel) Bouvier, a young American baritone with an extraordinary and varied background for his years, has a firm, finely directed sound with a distinctive fast vibrato. He used it excellently as a lively Bardolph with a cockney accent. The part of the page, called "Boy," was sung by Robin Massie in a star-bright and shining high soprano, a lively persona.

In the earlier Albuquerque performances of May 10-12, the part of Prince Hal/Henry V was sung by great trouper William Lewis, riding a distinguished career. He gave it a fervency, authority, and projection for which he's always been known. The New Mexico Symphony and its fine 100-voice Symphony Chorus (Roger Melone, director), gave just the last four scenes of Plump Jack, beginning with Pistol's announcement of Henry IV's death and Hal's succession. It was a strong performance, but entirely different from that in Mazatlán, because of the larger forces used and the scale of the attractive Popejoy Hall, some three times the capacity of Mazatlán's 800-seater. (The Angela Peralta Theater is a miniature La Scala, with three tiers of iron-filigree-faced opera boxes embracing the orchestra seating.)

Conducting a Second Career

Guillermo Figueroa, in his sixth year leading the New Mexico Symphony, has come to conducting as a second career (earlier he was the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra's founding concertmaster, then violist with the Emerson Quartet). He has one of the more elegant techniques you'll see today — calm, refreshingly undemonstrative as he conducts the phrase, not so much the beat. Next spring Figueroa will be one of the Berkeley Symphony's guest conductors, and also will conduct Symphony Silicon Valley in San Jose. After a clear performance of the Getty's four scenes, he led Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy-Overture, in a highly musical reading. (There's nothing much he or any conductor can do about the piece's tasteless slam-bang ending.)

Then followed Respighi's Pines of Rome, sensitively done, atmospheres nicely shaded and shaped. The organ was a big help in the later going because the hall's poor bass response seriously undersells the cellos and basses. The solo trumpet, John Marchiando, was first-rate, and James Shields' floating clarinet solo in "The Pines of the Janiculum" utterly beautiful. Naturally, "The Pines of the Appian Way," the finale of finales, with extra brasses in side boxes, brought down the house.

Returning to the principal matter, Plump Jack, the premiere of what Gordon Getty regards as essentially the final version, was performed four times, staged, at the University of Texas at Austin in the third week of April preceding the Mazatlán concert performance. Next, it will be recorded, perhaps after more fine-tuning. Of course, it's an entrepreneurial investment for him, but that's no different from the self-publishing that authors do regularly today.

Shakespeare gave Pistol words to describe the history to be played out during Henry V's new regime: "the kingdom for a stage." That might well be Getty's view.

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Annabel Lee, Three Welsh Songs, Victorian Scenes, Young America, Jerusalem, Young America,, Young America

Gordon Getty has mastered the art of traditional tonal composition. After spending some time with the composer in person, you would conclude further that he thoroughly enjoys doing it. This enjoyment is easily shared by listeners who do not insist that contemporary music must be complex and dissonant. The texts of these choral works are of 19th-century vintage: poems by Tennyson, Poe and A. E. Housman, arrangements of Welsh folk songs, a scene from an opera about Falstaff, with text mostly by Shakespeare. The music is limpid and beautifully presented.

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Annabel Lee, Three Welsh Songs, Victorian Scenes, Young America, Jerusalem, Young America, Audiophile Audition

Tom Gibbs, Audiophile Audition, Young America

...the works included here evoke a mood musically that easily could have come from the pen of Beethoven or Schubert, and Getty' s texts are derived from sources as diverse as Steven Vincent Benet, Edgar Allan Poe, Tennyson and Housman. He also includes his own translations of an excellent Welsh folk song cycle. The performances are outstanding. Sound quality, as usual from Pentatone, is superb. Highly recommended, especially for lovers of choral music, or anyone that yearns for a bygone age.

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Annabel Lee, Three Welsh Songs, Victorian Scenes, Young America, Jerusalem, Young America, San Francisco Classical Voice

San Francisco Classical Voice, Young America

Much of the lyrics are written by the composer and he has an easy direct way, producing what could easily be taken for traditional or folk poetry...Tilson Thomas catches the character of the parlante or speech rhythm to give these the feeling of immediacy and directness of expression. It comes right to you...The orchestration is selective and effective, and the restraint in the orchestral writing in all the music on the CD is admirable...The choral and orchestral performances throughout this CD are elegant, the music in its style and expressiveness, human, warm and sympathetic, giving song and voice to these poems.

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Annabel Lee, Three Christmas Carols, Victorian Scenes, Young America, Jerusalem, Young America, Sequenza21

William Grim, Young America

Getty's choral works feature a real affinity for the rhythms of the English language...Indeed, there is such a wonderful feeling for the prosody of English in Getty's compositions that he is able to imbue the poems of Benet, Housman, and Tennyson with a freshness that invites a reappraisal of the poetry of the pre-Modernists.... These are choral works in which the chorus takes center stage. I was particularly impressed with "Jerusalem," a scene from Getty's opera Plump Jack, which is based on the Falstaff/Henry plays of Shakespeare...Getty's genius is in knowing that tonal music is alive and well and has a level of referentiality and self-reflexivity that is beyond the limited palettes of the atonalists.


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Annabel Lee, Three Welsh Songs, Victorian Scenes, Young America, Jerusalem, Young America, Classical CD Review

Bob Benson, Young America
Classical CD Review

These performances present a strong case for the music, which should be popular with choruses searching for Americana to program.

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Annabel Lee, Three Welsh Songs, Victorian Scenes, Young America, Young America, Fanfare

Henry Fogel, Fanfare, Young America

...Getty is an extremely talented, communicative composer—one who writes in an extremely conservative, audience-friendly style, but who manages to find his own authentic voice. The more of his music I have heard, the more I've come to appreciate him as a powerful musical personality...While his music is tonal and tuneful, it is not without touches of 20th-century harmonic grammar...For any listener who enjoys robust choral writing, good tunes, lively rhythms, and ethereal beauty, this disc can be enthusiastically recommended. The texts of Young America were mostly written by Getty...This music and the texts recall just what the title implies, a young America, and the work is evocative and powerful despite or perhaps because of its simplicity. Getty also has a nice feel for orchestral colors. The Three Welsh Songs are settings by Getty, and "All Through the Night" is a remarkably beautiful closing to the group. Victorian Scenes is a setting of poems by Tennyson and Housman, and evokes scenes of nature very effectively. Annabel Lee is a setting of Poe's heart-on-sleeve poem paying tribute to his wife who died of tuberculosis at the age of 24. What saves Poe's words from excessive sentimentality is their deeply felt sincerity and the elegance of his outpouring of love and sorrow, and Getty captures this in his music...


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International Record Review, Young America

There's clearly a strong personal voice here [and] the results are consistently winsome, sometimes even hauntingly beautiful...Those attracted to the spirit behind this music will find that the performances are fluent and that the soundas usual with PentaTone - is exceptionally natural.

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Joan and the Bells, SF Gate

Joshua Kosman, Joan and the Bells
SF Gate

The afternoon's most thoroughly satisfying offering came courtesy of the Bay Area's Gordon Getty, whose 20-minute cantata "Joan and the Bells" preceded intermission. In this skillfully wrought triptych, Getty uses a few swift dramatic strokes to conjure up Joan of Arc's trial, internal anguish and execution. 

Getty's harmonic palette is constrained by his neo-Romantic idiom, but the melodic ingenuity of the writing is irresistible -- especially in Joan's long and heartfelt central monologue, which continuously circles back on itself in whorls of doubt and reassurance. And in the work's powerful ending, as chorus and orchestra leap ever higher, Getty makes you hear the flurry of angels' voices and even the ascension of Joan's soul. 

Delan, who has sung this music since its 1998 premiere, was a sensitive, probing soloist, handling the wide vocal leaps gently and precisely and lending an air of other-worldly grace to the performance. Chernov, singing in heavily accented English, was a formidable presence as Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais, and the singing of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, led by Vance George, was robust and well blended.

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Joan and the Bells, Gramophone

Marc Rochester, Joan and the Bells

A powerful work given a refreshingly unpretentious performance.

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Joan and the Bells, Fanfare

J.F. Weber, Fanfare, Joan and the Bells

If you can forget about Getty's money for 20 minutes, just listen to his 1998 cantata Joan and the Bells and evaluate the work on its own merits. Yes, it ignores almost every musical technique developed during Getty's lifetime (he was born in 1933), and yes, it calls to mind the styles of other composers, most especially Samuel Barber, with a whiff of Vaughan Williams's Sea Symphony in the choral writing. Yet it is a highly effective work, well written for the voices, ably orchestrated, thematically coherent, dramatically persuasive…. Unless your heart is hardened against new music that doesn't really do anything new, Joan and the Bells is a fully engaging cantata, with its shimmering orchestration and vocal lines that are actually singable.

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Joan and the Bells, Opera News

Joshua Rosenblum, Joan and the Bells
Opera News

Gordon Getty's cantata Joan and the Bells is a distinctive and musically appealing version of the Joan of Arc story, beginning with her trial for heresy and witchcraft, and building to a startling climax as she faces death at the stake…The second section, an eight-minute monologue for Joan…displays thematic unity and a consistent melodiousness. [Joan and the Bells] is dramatically assured, structurally sound, and likable without being obvious…eminently recommendable.

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Ivan Moody, International Record Review, Joan and the Bells

Getty's music is fluent and well orchestrated, and there are some very effective moments. It is, in fact, a skillfully written, very traditional kind of oratorio (the composer describes it as a cantata, but it fits squarely within the oratorio tradition as Walton, for instance, would have understood it).

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Joan and the Bells, Audiophile Audition

John Sunier, Joan and the Bells
Audiophile Audition

This [CD] was quite a surprise to me… the words of the two excellent soloists and chorus [are] intelligible and very moving. The climax of the work comes when [Joan of Arc] is burned at the stake and in spite of the court having silenced any churchbells, loud bells from heaven are heard. The recording was made at a live concert in France and this section benefits tremendously from the realistic envelopment of the tumultuous pealing bells, which has a vertical dimension to it even though height channels are not being used. Talk about a big finish!

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Joan and the Bells, Classics Today

David Hurwitz, Joan and the Bells
Classics Today

Joan and the Bells is a dramatic cantata in three movements that lasts about 21 never-boring minutes…The performance recorded here features the excellent Eric Ericson Chamber Choir…Soprano Lisa Delan has the right instincts for the title role as well as a sweetly innocent timbre… As Joan's principal accuser, baritone Vladimir Chernov sounds aptly weighty and judgmental… Alexander Vedernikov and the Russian National Orchestra give [a] very committed performance of the score, and certainly Gordon Getty's use of traditional harmony and his Romantic approach plays to the strengths of all concerned.

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Joan and the Bells, Music Web International

Paul Shoemaker, Joan and the Bells
Music Web International

…a rising dramatic tension, a brilliant sonic resolution and a genuine emotional impact…Soprano Lisa Delan sings beautifully and with absorbing drama.

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Jason Victor Serinus, Plump Jack

It has been a long time coming, but Gordon Getty's most widely discussed composition, the opera Plump Jack, has finally made it to disc — the 75-minute concert version, that is, which omits two of the opera's scenes. And while it's not clear that we as yet have the opera in final form — since the first performance of the “Boar's Head Inn” scene (Act 1, Scene 5) at San Francisco Symphony in 1985, 11 additional scenes and an 11 minute and 18 second long overture have been added and orchestrated, and the entire opera has been recently revised — what we do have is an engaging musical enterprise that invites critical commentary…The music may be tonal in the traditional sense, yet its dark drama, arresting percussive exclamations, and intriguing dynamic contrasts immediately draw us — certainly me — in. Most of the ensuing dialogue far more resembles speech than melody, with Getty's notably rich and compelling orchestration conveying the underlying emotions…Even as I acknowledge that I want the opera to succeed — Getty is, after all, one of the Bay Area's and the world's great music and education philanthropists, whose generosity enables a host of organizations (including SFCV) to perform with excellence — I can honestly affirm that much of it does.

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Jeff Kaliss, Usher House

“The Fall of the House of Usher” was Poe's most famous piece of prose. But even the biggest fans of that early American master of Gothic storytelling shouldn't be put off by Getty's canny twisting of the tale: He's made Poe himself the participant narrator, framing the single-act story with the author's mood-setting Prologue and somber Postlogue, in a manner evocative of Captain Vere's role at the beginning and end of Benjamin Britten's opera Billy Budd. In addition, Getty…has added elements to the devolution of the ancient curse on the Usher family, and has chosen to put the Usher Ancestors into the production (as either silent performers or projections). These alterations heighten the dramatic impact of the show, effectively conveyed in this recording by the emotive and powerful voices of the small international cast… The cast enlivens Getty's primarily discursive score, with Poe delivering the single closest thing to a set-piece aria — the harmonically chimerical “Where is my lady”… Another compositional standout is the extended orchestral writing that accompanies the entrance in Scene 2 of the Ancestors to the ballroom…and the dancing that follows. Getty grows more lyrical in this scene, with a smartly sardonic aside to Johann Strauss, and an occasional macabre stagger to the dance rhythm. The gestural aspect of much of the vocal score involves many repeated figures and octave leaps, well-paced and artfully accompanied by the Orquestra Gulbenkian… After the Prologue, the theatrical tone becomes deceptively collegial and upbeat, with Roderick welcoming a visit from his one-time school “Eddie” Poe… The transition to Roderick's revelation of his family's bleak history is a bit jarring and complex, but nonetheless entertaining…Getty colors the noir settings of the story and its location with effective deployment of horns and woodwinds, and interposes a celesta to represent the apparition of Madeline.

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Literaturnaya Gazeta, Russian National Orchestra performance

Russian National Orchestra's new project, Classical Music in 3D, presented at the festival has also sparked great interest among the audience. This project is a synergy of classical music and 3D visualization. That night, the audience had the chance to listen to Claude Debussy's three symphonic sketches for orchestra La Mer (The Sea), Gustav Holst's orchestral suite The Planets, and three works by American composer Gordon Getty (b. 1933) who had come to Moscow specifically for this purpose: suite for mixed chorus and symphony orchestra Young America, vocal scene for soprano and orchestra Gretchen to Faust (soloist Lisa Delan, USA), and the world premiere of Mephistopheles to Faust (soloist Petr Migunov).

Getty's music is, on the one hand, very relatable to the context of our time, spiritual search of today's people, and on the other hand, it appeals to the timeless reflections on life and death, love, the world, and fate of the mankind. The composer's ability to listen very closely to the deepest meaning behind the words, and, by interpreting this meaning in the musical form, to find his own facets of expressive intonation are distinctive features of his talent.

Each of the works performed that day had its own visual concept. For this purpose, the authors (visualization of music was performed by Artnovi company) chose to implement polarizing techniques, generative graphics and dynamic light.

Vladislav Lavrik conducted the orchestra that night. Lavrik has been the first trumpeter for over dozen years now, and has been balancing his career as a solo artist and his work in the orchestra with conducting since 2009. It was great that the young conductor managed to retrieve new meanings from each sheet music by differentially organizing the complex symphonic and choral texture of compositions (Yurlov Russian State Academic Choir also took part in performing of suites by Getty and Holst).

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Discover the work and life of the great American composer.