Vocal Works By Scott Perkins
First up in this compelling collection is a selection of Walt Whitman’s oeuvre, including the work that inspired the album’s title, which Perkins’ music hauntingly elucidates as the lament of a soul hovering on the brink between life and death. Intriguingly, the composer preserves the mood for the Holy Sonnets by John Donne, a Petrarch-style, English Renaissance collection of sonnets auguring the later Baroque period’s preoccupation with the contrast between carnality and mortality.
Just as mysterious: the Riddle Songs, poems taken from a 10th-century anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry, sung in Old English and ethereally brought to life by Perkins’ colorful tonal language. With the same unique brushstroke, the listener is seamlessly escorted to the Dogen Songs, minimalist poems by 13th-century Japanese Zen monk Dogen Zenji.
A true highlight awaits in the form of the composer’s fellow East Coast native, William Carlos Williams, whose poems Spring and All, The Farmer, and The Right of Way, Perkins brings to life with the aptitude and zest of a true kindred spirit. Similarly, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Summer Songs are awarded a graceful treatment, with fittingly elaborate lyrical phrasings and an almost neo-Romantic tonality taking the reins.
Perkins initially ties in contemporary American poet Lia Purpura’s Three Songs for Autumn with the same mood, though ample care is taken not to stifle the freestyle nature of the more modern lyric. Soir d’Hiver (Winter Evening) opens with a bone-chilling chord which could not have been more appropriately chosen for the subject matter: poetic sketches of wintertime hardship and barrenness by several different poets such as Rilke and Verlaine.
WHISPERS OF HEAVENLY DEATH manages to fit not one, but eight (!) song cycles on one album – and it’s an aspirational feat indeed.