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A “Unique Addition” to the Whitman Repertoire

When PostClassical Ensemble undertook our world premiere recording of the 1944 radio play Whitman, we did so in the conviction that Bernard Herrmann’s score was a Whitman setting of such distinction that the result was more than a radio play. Rather, we had stumbled upon a sngular addition to the symphonic repertoire of “melodramas” – compositions for music plus the spoken word.

The latest (and longest) review of our new CD, by Jack Sullivan, agrees. Sullivan’s opinion matters here, because he is the author of important books dealing with Herrmann (Hithcock’s Music) and Whitman (New World Symphonies) both.

Writing in Classical Voice North America, he says:

Whitman is a ‘big discovery’ fully worth of resurrection as a concert work . . . a unique addition to a huge, ever-growing body of Whitman settings, from the high Victorianism of Hubert Parry during Whitman’s lifetime to the bluesy hipness of Leonard Bernstein in the mid-20thcentury. . . .

“The flexibility of Whitman’s rhythm, the intimacy of his first-person voice, and the universality of his content have always been a draw for composers even though he was once denounced as profoundly unmusical (a ‘ninth-rate poet,’ in the words of Ezra Pound). Whitman assumed his connection to music to be self-evident. He was an opera critic for the Brooklyn Eagle before he was a poet, and his poems are packed with musical references . . . He regarded music as the ‘truest,’ most organic, and most inspiring art.”

As Sullivan also observes, “Whitman looks forward to a reaffirmation of American ideals in the wake of Fascism, a world where ‘tyrants tremble’ rather than bully.” Whitman’s present-day relevance, preaching an inclusive America, is scarcely less apparent – and was a core topic in the PCE’s More than Music film Beyond “Psycho” The Musical Genius of Bernard Herrmann.

Not the least gratifying aspect of Sullivan’s review is its American provenance. So little classical-music journalism remains in the US that it was a foregone conclusion that our all-American CD – celebrating Herrmann, Whitman, and the radio drama writer/producer Norman Corwin – would mainly be reviewed abroad. And so it has been. Particularly gratifying was this encomium from Scherzo, Spain’s leading classical-music magazine: “Each new album by PostClassical Ensemble and its director, Ángel Gil-Ordóñez, is both a surprise and a discovery. The deserved result of investigating beyond the predictable. And this new album of theirs is not an exception, but the joyful confirmation of that.”

an ArtsJournal blog