Garth Baxter composer
Jessica Satava soprano
Andrew Stewart piano
Peter Scott Drackley tenor
Annie Gill soprano
Katherine Uhna Keem coloratura soprano
Melissa Wertheimer flute
Composer Garth Baxter makes his PARMA debut with a collection of his exquisite works for voice entitled Ask the Moon. This album is about the human condition and the pursuit of light in darkness. A setting of Sara Teasdale’s “Nights Without Sleep,” for voice and piano commences the album’s journey of introspection.
Then there is Three Madrigals—“There is a Lady Sweet and Kind,” combines the elegance of the English art song with the character of a Stephen Foster folk tune; the performance of “The Silver Swan,” a dark Irish ballad of sorts, is evocative of the Leontyne Price recordings of Samuel Barber’s art songs; “Love Me Not for Comely Grace,” embodies its text, demonstrating the sweet, yet complicated burden of affections.
Following is “Is This the Cost?” an elegiac exemplar of Baxter’s flair for dramatic writing derived from Act II, Scene II of his opera Lily (Lisa VanAuken, librettist).
Four Views of Love begins with “When You Are Old,” a reflective setting of the classic Yeats text. Be prepared for an incredible climax that expresses fully the ranges of the piano and the human voice trailed by blissful catharsis. “Let it Be You” and “Let It be Forgotten,” beckon the listener into the hollows of the heart, and are followed by a touching setting of Thomas Hardy’s “A Thunderstorm in Town.”
“Grandmother, Think Not I Forget,” is a setting of a text Baxter co-wrote with his wife Katherine and is inspired by a Willa Cather poem. The music is honorable and commemorative.
Next is Three Poems from Edna St. Vincent Millay. “Afternoon on a Hill” is an anthem for wistfulness—short, careful and delicate. “Lament” is heavy in both text and composition. It depicts a woman in deep grief after losing her husband. She is merely going through the motions of life and tries to convince herself that life must go on. This song is dedicated to Katherine Keem, who is one of the vocalists on this CD. She loved the song but never had a chance to sing it before she died. “Travel” is a song that is full of longing. Its deceptive simplicity holds an underlying message that speaks differently to each listener. To some it is nostalgic; to others it projects hope; and to still others, melancholy or adventure.
Two Last Songs begins with “1932,” a narrator’s last memoir. It is in ternary form with the ending section taking on an almost recitative style by stretching out the phrases and reducing the accompaniment. The song ends abruptly, as life itself. “When I am Dead, My Dearest,” is the storyteller’s last plea to her lover—an invitation to sweet fondness in mourning, rather than sadness.
Baxter revisits the poetry of Willa Cather with a setting of “April Twilight,” which Cather wrote in memory of her two brothers in their youth. This charismatic setting includes an accompanying melody for flute.
Closing the album is Skywriting, a cycle “drawing on words by Linda Pastan.” In the composer’s own words—“[Pastan’s] poems have so often touched me so deeply and in such a very personal way that it feels as if she has been listening to my thoughts. The title of the CD, Ask the Moon, comes from the closing line of the final song, ‘Why are your poems so dark?’”