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A complete archive of reviews of works by Gordon Getty, including performances and recordings.

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Beauty Come Dancing, San Francisco Classical Voice

Featured Review: Jeff Kaliss, Beauty Come Dancing
San Francisco Classical Voice

Gordon Getty Aims for Tunes Chopin Might Have Written

Beauty Come Dancing, on the Pentatone label, is an attractive collection that confirms Gordon Getty's twin loves of composing for voice and making poetry into music. Even those familiar with Getty's operatic settings of Shakespeare (Plump Jack) and Poe (Usher House) may be unaware that the composer studied English at the University of San Francisco before earning a bachelor's degree and setting the verses of Alfred Lord Tennyson and Emily Dickinson in song. The poets assembled here range historically from Lord Byron to John Masefield to Getty himself, and the music in many aspects is as varied as the verse, unified by the composer's self-declared affinity for 19th-century tropes of elegance and romance, and his flair for the dramatic.

 

These qualities are airily and engagingly conveyed by the Netherlands Radio Choir and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by James Gaffigan, and are evident in Getty's own poetry, the source for the album's first two offerings. “The Old Man in the Night” showcases the full instrumental and vocal ensembles in a gentle and reflective account of an interchange between two characters at opposite ends of their lives. “The Old Man in the Morning,” written more recently, elicits plaintive accompaniment on English horn, harp, and strings. Love is an abiding theme here for both poets and composer, as is dance, first manifest in Getty's take on John Masefield's “Ballet Russe.” The poem references Chopin, and Getty, in the liner notes, has stated his “aim for tunes Chopin might have written, but didn't.”

Like his Polish pianist-composer predecessor, Getty's pacing and coloration sound choreographed, the arpeggiated piano sparkling at the center of the choral display, partnered by harp and strings. “Shenandoah,” though its lyric lies in folklore, may be one of Getty's most affecting single pieces to date. The refrain's “rolling river” is audible in the swells and runs, the harmonic arrangement alluring and rustically fresh and unaffected.

The affect for John Keats's “There Was a Naughty Boy” is appropriately jumpy and playful, in short lines like a child's story song. The only setting for women's chorus is matched to “Those Who Love the Most,” the only poem by a woman. The music invokes the magic in the poet's mythic name-checks and palpably positions love as triumphant. For the album's titular “Beauty Come Dancing,” from a poem by the composer, Getty trickily pairs iambic pentameter with waltz time, with giddy accompaniment by flutes, clarinets, celesta, and strings. The waltz sobers up for Edwin Arlington Robinson's “For a Dead Lady,” in an alluring setting for chamber orchestra that ends artfully unresolved.

Another compelling change of scene on Lord Byron's epic of “The Destruction of Sennacherib,” perhaps the most evocative of the masterful mustering of the individual sections and instruments of the orchestra apparent in some of Getty's operatic writing. It's arguably also the composer's closest approach to advanced 20th-century chromatic modulations and anguished voicings. The tale of “Cynara” is the work of “Decadent” poet and novelist Ernest Christopher Dawson, but Getty's deployment of men's chorus and chamber orchestra, effectively dramatic, honor's the poet's febrile longing but avoids the garish. Keats returns for the closer, “La belle dame sans merci,” with which Getty takes on another of his favorite roles, unabashedly sustaining single notes or chords when they serve his role as a storyteller. In an ironic twist on Keats's “wither'd sedge” where “no birds sing,” Getty commands a clarinet to sing anyway. All the poetry appears in the album's booklet, making for a quite satisfying celebration of two forms of creative expression.

 

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Beauty Come Dancing, Music Web International

Featured Review: Paul Corfield Godfrey, Beauty Come Dancing
Music Web International

In his booklet note for this release, Gordon Getty observes that he has avoided musical settings of the words of living poets apart from himself, “because I prefer to avoid disagreement.” But in the choral works in this collection he has certainly not shied away from competition with other composers who have tackled some of the same very well-known poems:

Dowson's Cynara (so memorably set by Delius), Byron's The destruction of Sannacherib (by Mussorgsky, no less), and a whole raft of other composers who have engaged with Keats' La belle dame sans merci – Armstrong Gibbs, Hadley, O'Neill, Scott and Stanford in particular. All the works on this disc were written between the years 2009 and 2015, and therefore postdate the choral music by Getty featured on earlier releases.

The title of this collection, however, comes from one of Getty's own poems, Beauty come dancing, as well as the two opening tracks The old man in the night and The old man in the morning which appear to be autobiographical in inspiration. The first is by a very substantial margin the longest single work on this disc (over a quarter of an hour) and the orchestral accompaniment is vivid even though the xylophone, tubular bells and vibraphone are too prominent in the mix. It seems odd that the quoted voice of the old man is taken by the men of the chorus rather than a soloist, but the contrasts of the poem are nevertheless well reflected in music that responds with sympathy to the dialogue and ruminations of the narrator. All one might wish for is a more substantial melodic profile rather than the Janáçek-like ostinato which underlines some of the word-setting, although the almost Brucknerian climax towards the end is impressive. Similar musical material is featured in The old man in the morning, which is a rather beautiful miniature written four years later.

The setting of John Masefield's Ballet russe has a sense of rhythmic gawkiness which perhaps sits rather oddly with its subject, but then the poem itself, with its juxtaposition of a “Chopin air” with “Roland's horn”, is peculiar in its own right. The arrangement of Shenandoah also has its unexpected moments, with an orchestral accompaniment that seems to lead an independent existence and which in the third verse provides a really chilly frisson at the words “I love your daughter”. By comparison the setting of Keats' There was a naughty boy is relatively conventional, with the orchestral accompaniment reduced to sporadic commentary on the rhythmic delivery of the choral text. The setting of Sarah Teasdale's Those who love the best is beautifully restrained in the opening verse and builds to a thrilling climax in the second, a piece that deserves to be taken up by female choirs around the world.

On the other hand, Getty's setting of his own poem Beauty come dancing seems curiously bitty, an odd choice to headline the title of the disc. The orchestral accompaniment has a nicely sly sense of rhythm, like Prokofiev at his most cheeky, but we need a greater sense of connection between the verses. What is missing is immediately clear in the setting of Edwin Arlington Robinson's For a dead lady which begins with an attractive oboe melody over harp accompaniment; even the pseudo-Janáçek violin ostinati blend unobtrusively into the setting, despite once again the over-amplified tuned percussion (here an unbelievably loud celesta). The return of the oboe melody at the final words is effective, but one might have welcomed a more conclusive ending.


The final three items in this collection consist of the settings of Byron, Dowson, and Keats to which I referred earlier. The Assyrian comes down like the wolf on the fold with all the expected violence that one might anticipate (it follows with rude directness on the quiet ‘fade' of For a dead lady) and once again the Janáçek-like ostinato figure is prominently on display. Not altogether surprisingly the best passages in the choral setting of Cynara are those which echo Delius's unforgettable treatment of phrases such as “There fell thy shadow, Cynara!” but then yet again we hear the same “Janáçek” repeated motif in the violins. The wind chords at the words “I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion” sound expectedly churchy in this context before the insistent ostinato returns yet again. The ending of the poem, with the woodwind chords, is very sudden; no sense here of the Delian dying fall.

The Keats setting is more adventurous, as well as being the second-longest piece in the collection. Sometimes the treatment of the words is undesirably brisk, but then we encounter a particularly memorable phrase – as in the first verse at “And no birds sing” which echoes a passage from Holst's similarly Keats-based Choral Symphony. The woodwind squawks as the fairy maiden appears are also effective, but then we suddenly find ourselves back in the field of the “Janáçek” violin ostinato which builds to a furious climax at the appearance of the “pale warriors”. The persistent appearance of this ‘motto theme' is clearly intentional, but its significance eludes me; it serves to bind the three final settings together, but its sheer ubiquity is obtrusive when they are heard in immediate succession as here. The final bars, with the return of the ‘fairy maiden' woodwind, are however very effective.

The recording is generally well balanced even if the chorus is somewhat backwardly positioned in the modern manner; although their diction is clear, we do need the provided texts to keep abreast of what is going on especially in the more heavily-scored passages of The old man in the night and elsewhere. There are some peculiar pronunciations, such as “granary” in the final Keats setting delivered as “grainery”, but nothing to perturb the listener more than briefly.

The presentation of this disc, as is usual with Pentatone's releases of Getty, is impressively lavish: a forty-page illustrated booklet includes the full texts as well as information on the music, albeit in English only. Those who have enjoyed Getty's earlier discs of choral music will find these settings irresistible. But there are only three items here – the quirky setting of Shenandoah, the lyrical For a dead lady, and the superlative Those who love the best – which rival the earlier Pentatone recording containing Getty's Young America and Victorian Scenes, which really are something rather special.

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Three Welsh Songs, An American Song Album, Limelight

Alexandra Coghlan: A solo debut of startling quality announcing a major new talent
Limelight

"Moore has stayed close to home for her debut, performing songs by everyone from Barber and Copland to Jake Heggie, Carlisle Floyd and Gordon Getty, that show off her intelligence and careful handling of text ... There's soul-bearing directness in Floyd's Five Songs of Motherhood and Kathy's aria "Chips, darling" from Getty's "Goodbye Mr Chips" ... 

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Three Welsh Songs, An American Song Album, BBC Music Magazine

An American Song Album Featured Choral & Song Choice October 2019

"A performance full of interest and vividly communicative artistry."

 

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Three Welsh Songs, An American Song Album, Gramophone

Edward Seckerson: An American Song Album
Gramophone

“Kathy's aria, ‘Chips, darling, it's started', is a cracker, impassioned and stirring, a three-tissue number. As to Getty's arrangements of the traditional classics which bring the disc home, the Spiritual ‘Deep River' takes Moore back to her church roots and is possessed of an inwardness, a deep and abiding weariness, that comes from a very honest place. As does ‘Danny Boy' – and how else do you sing that but with quiet respect for one of the great tunes?”

 

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Three Welsh Songs, An American Song Album, The Guardian (London)

Erica Jeal: Melody Moore An American Song Album review
The Guardian

"This recording is a calling card for a genuinely exciting and electric voice, solidly gleaming, with the high range of a soprano but fleshed out with dark, mezzo-ish colours and with its voluptuous richness focused into singing of striking directness and clarity."

 

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Three Welsh Songs, An American Song Album, Presto Classical

Presto Editors Choice July 2019: An American Song Album
Presto Classical

“A thought-provoking, timely and ravishingly-sung recital of American art-song from Memphis-born soprano Melody Moore has been on heavy rotation for me this month … Featuring music by Copland, Heggie, Floyd and Getty, this debut solo recital the American spinto soprano is an absolute joy: sensitively captured by Pentatone's engineers”

Katherine Cooper

 

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The Old Man in the Night, San Francisco Classical Voice

Jeff Kaliss: Celebrating the Moon at Festival Napa Valley
San Francisco Classical Voice

"The theme continued in the second piece, San Francisco-based composer Gordon Getty's setting of what he's said may be his longest original poem, The Old Man in the Night, whose story, an interchange between two men at the opposite ends of their lives, moves from twilight into nighttime, with allusions to “the Huntress Moon.” It's a score whose musical drama evokes Wagner and demands crisp and clear declaration both instrumental and vocal, the latter challenged by the composer's tendency toward sustained unison tones. In this regard, and without amplification, the women of the Festival Napa Valley Volti Chorale, under chorus master Robert Geary, fared better than the somewhat muted men. Conductor Joel Revzen perfectly paced and balanced the Festival Orchestra Napa through Getty's setting of clarion horns and moody strings against the singers' gravitas."

 

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Beauty Come Dancing, Records International

Records International, Beauty Come Dancing
September 2018 Catalogue

As we've seen before (05K089, 05T071 etc.) Getty has a special relationship with the human voice - he contemplated becoming a professional singer at one point early in his musical career - and nowhere is this shown to better advantage than in these fine choral settings of poets with whom he feels a particular affinity, with their sumptuous orchestral accompaniments. 

Getty is a Romantic through and through; had he been born a century earlier he would have fit right in with the pre-Raphaelites and their cohorts throughout the arts, and their idols including Keats, whom he sets twice here. Most of the poems here explore themes of unrequited or distantly recalled loves and beauty fled but passionately celebrated in memory. The composer's style is chordal and harmonic; melismatic, complicated contrapuntal lines are not for him, let alone unusual vocal effects. What he does so very well is the clear presentation of the text, gratefully set for the voices and illustrated with music that faultlessly matches the mood of the narrative and its dramatic content. He is no mean poet himself; the longest song here, and two others are to his own texts. The Old Man in the Night takes up a quarter of the disc in its reflective, autumnal tale of the memory of a past passion as night closes in on an old man's life, while Beauty Come Dancing expands on the themes of its title, making it a perfect foil to Masefield's Ballet Russe. Dowson's Cynara and Keats' Belle Dame sans merci show the composer's range, their darker undertones bringing out searching harmonies and original, descriptive orchestration, while Byron's Assyrian cohorts descend on Jerusalem with fine rhythmic vigor and high romantic drama. Texts included. Netherlands Radio Choir, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra; ?James Gaffigan.

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