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Recordings

Living American Composers
16 Dec 2011

Randal Turner Sings the Songs of Living American Composers

A self-published recording, baritone Randal Turner’s traversal of contemporary songs in English, Living American Composers, makes for a fine vocal calling card.

Living American Composers

Randal Turner, baritone; Allen Perriello, piano.

$15.99   Click to buy

Recorded live in a San Francisco church (and with the expected reverberant acoustics), this CD presents a handsome voice with both strength in declamatory sections and gentle lyricism when called for. It’s not a dark sound, and at times a certain generic tonal color, like that of a Broadway singer, makes itself felt. Ironically, the least successful track is the closing encore of the American songbook chestnut, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Perhaps as the encore piece it did not get the benefit of ample rehearsal time, but pianist Allen Perriello and Mr. Turner don’t always seem to be at the same place in the music, and Mr. Turner’s precision that is so rewarding in the other, more “serious” numbers comes off as slightly prissy here.

The two best known of the composers are Ricky Ian Gordon and Jake Heggie. Gordon’s songs are attractive and closer in spirit to Broadway than to the concert hall or opera stage. The aria from Gordon’s opera The Grapes of Wrath takes Tom Joad’s closing speech from the film and prettifies it, which may work in the context of the opera but as compared to the stark approach of John Ford’s film, feels mannered. Heggie’s material has the most interesting piano parts, and the vocal settings are stylish but somewhat sterile emotionally. The aria for Starbuck from Heggie’s recent Moby Dick opera brings no surprises — it’s well-crafted but melodically unmemorable and dramatically inert.

A long piece by Turner’s “friend and composer Julia Schwartz” strives too much for cleverness, to diminishing returns. The sets by Glen Rove and Clint Borzoni, on the other hand, introduce two composers with skill and imagination to rival that of the better known Gordon and Heggie.

The slim booklet has no texts or links to texts, and the recorded sound in the church setting makes some lines hard to decipher. The piano bench, it seems, could have benefited from an application of oil before the recording session. Mr. Turner is to be thanked for deciding to focus on repertory not usually encountered in recital recordings, and as noted before, this self-published CD serves as a good testament to the inherent quality of his instrument.

Chris Mullins

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