Soprano Patrice Michaels relishes ambitious recording projects that demand an inordinate range of vocal and intellectual talent -- projects the average modern diva couldn’t attempt. This album presents performances ranging from dramatic characterizations in Letters from Composers to flat-out coloratura in Vaughan Williams’ Three Vocalises for Soprano and Clarinet.
"What a delightful surprise," Argento says of the CD. "Not only does Miss Michaels Bedi sing these songs beautifully, but her various partners . . . are equally sensitive performers. Bravo to all."
The album includes the world premiere recording of Argento’s Songs about Spring for voice and piano, based on poems by e.e. cummings. "This first recording . . . should serve as a model for all future performances," the composer says. Argento composed this song cycle (his first) while still an undergraduate at Baltimore’s Peabody Institute of Music.
Here, too, is the only available CD recording of Letters from Composers for voice and guitar. Based on letters and fragments of letters written by Chopin, Mozart, Schubert, Bach, Debussy, Puccini, and Schumann, they illustrate a wide range of personal problems having almost no relevance to their compositional careers. The musical settings show Argento’s understanding of each composer’s expressive style.
To Be Sung Upon the Water (Wordsworth settings scored for high voice, clarinet, and piano) is available in only one other version -- a reissue from the 1970s. The cycle is noteworthy for the subtle and sensitive use of clarinet and bass clarinet (performed here by Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal clarinetist Larry Combs).
The clarinet reappears in Vaughan Williams’ Three Vocalises for Soprano and Clarinet, one of the composer’s last works. Vaughan Williams’ love of early English folk music is evident in the song selections from Along the Field, his settings of A.E. Housman poems for the unusual combination of voice and violin.
Miss Michaels studied composition with Argento at the University of Minnesota. They share a fondness for intimate vocal forms and a distinct literary sensibility. "Argento’s works impress on the listeners a strong musical personality, a result of his being drawn perpetually to the human voice" (New Grove Dictionary of American Music). For her part, Miss Michaels told Fanfare magazine (September / October 1996) in an interview: "I’ve always been attracted to the literary impulse behind the music." Besides producing musical sounds, she wants to tell stories.