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Bernard Jacobson
Fanfare, June 2002

"Carole Farley, whose range is as impressive in stylistic as in purely vocal terms, shows herself here to be an ideal interpreter for Rorem, and his playing responds with hand-in-glove precision and sympathy. The voice itself, at once tensile-strong and appealingly vulnerable, seems in splendid condition."

John Freeman
Black Enterprise Magazine, April 2002

"[Rorem's] approach to songwriting differs little from this prose style. Both are witty, discriminating, conceived with skill and a conscious sense of manner, set within a wide cultural frame of reference...His songs, like his articles and books, are engaging and show that their author works with as much care as ease. It's a care not only for the niceties of artistic technique but for the human condition, with no aspect minor enough to slip past his attention...Farley, like Rorem, brings a direct Mid-western background to bear on a cosmopolitan foreground. Thoughtful in interpreting both text and music, the soprano picks her way through Rorem's often tricky vocal traceries with more dexterity than spontaneity, but her even tone wears well."

John W Freeman
Opera News, April 2002

"Rorem's generous song output has given him a lead in a crowded but unrewarding profession. Most composers love to write songs; most singers are in no hurry to sing them. Through hard work and professionalism, as much as through natural aptitude for this tempting, elusive art form, Rorem has made himself an exception, cultivating the capacities of sympathetic interpreters such as Carole Farley, his partner on this CD from Naxos's American Classics series.

He chooses his texts with a keener literary eye than most other composers, and his ear is equally fine-tuned. Some of the pieces in this CD cross section are from familiar writers - most American, some from the British Isles - but not necessarily from their best-known work. Other choices are those of a person much more widely read than average.

Farley, like Rorem, brings a direct Mid-western background to bear on a cosmopolitan foreground. Thoughtful in interpreting both text and music, the soprano picks her way through Rorem's often tricky vocal traceries with more dexterity than spontaneity, but her even tone wears well... [giving] precedence to the importance of legato. The composer is at the piano, giving these readings his stylistic imprimatur.

The CD's first nine tracks, settings of Theodore Roethke, fairly represent the Rorem approach - conservative, elegantly crafted, subtle and flexible in expressive range. Song No. 1, "The Waking," shows his fondness, akin to that of Satie and Poulenc, for setting each syllable to a single note value, but by the second track, 'Root Cellar,' he has yielded to the occasional temptation to assign two notes to one syllable. 'Orchids' shows a pictorial gift, with music as limp as the plants described. There's Ivesian humor in 'The Serpent,' even a twisty melisma in 'Snake.'

The sequence of what follows, chosen for variety, should have something for everyone, and everything for some. Most of the songs are short, never gilding the lily. Gertrude Stein's 'I am Rose' gets just a few bars. But with a longer piece, such as Elizabeth Bishop's 'Visit to St. Elizabeth's,' the composer performs the feat of stretching out a fast tempo. Rorem finds rare magic in the monotone second verse of Tennyson's 'Ask me no more,' and broad, big-boned music in 'Youth, Day, Old Age, and Night,' first of a closing group of five devoted to Walt Whitman. Especially in the first three of these, Rorem's own poetry rises to meet Whitman's, and the cause of the American art song has been ratcheted up a peg."

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, January 2002

"2001 was a good year for Rorem's songs. First came Susan Graham and Malcolm Martineau with their selection of 32 and now here is the composer himself with one of his favoured sopranos (as is Susan Graham herself) Carole Farley. A number of songs overlap and intriguing points of comparison and departure are opened up.

Rorem has written over 250 songs and they never lack melodic interest or technical demands. Couched in a very personal language and exceptionally alive to the text, Rorem's directness is never obvious and his settings emerge organically. His themes - those that he sets - are those of childhood, of love and loss and death - as well as jauntier things. Most of the texts are American but include Spenser, Hopkins and Tennyson. As expected his favoured Theodore Roethke features prominently. Several of the settings are of exceptional brevity. Influences, thoroughly absorbed, are evident; the admitted influences of Ravel, Satie and Poulenc, not forgetting the formative importance of the, himself Francophile, Virgil Thomson - Rorem was Thomson's copyist. Added to these are elements of jazz colouring. His style can thus be seen as one of fluid mutation fused with an acute and individual response to language.

Comparison between Susan Graham and Carole Farley reveals some conspicuous differences of approach... Farley...plays more with the words, elongating her vowels, flirting with her intonation. Listen to her use of the word 'Damp' [in 'Orchids'] - it is plosive, heavily vowelled with an impersonation or acted delivery, immensely theatrical. The following song, the Serpent, emphasises, reinforces and amplifies their wildly differing approaches...Farley is again jazzier, fleeter, blowsier - in a word, more obvious. She seizes on words and savages them - listen to her violent assault on the word 'note' for example. Furthermore she is never afraid to coarsen her tone in the interests of full musical-literary effect.

Farley uses her instincts to commendable effect in songs such as Spenser's 'What if some little pain' - where Rorem hints at a ground bass - evidenced by her breathy 'doth' in the concluding line that shows her visceral and intelligent response to textual ambiguities. Certainly this could also be construed as over-emphatic by those unsympathetic to such an interpretation. In Tennyson's 'Now sleeps the crimson petal' the disparity in approach becomes most marked. Graham takes 4.19, Farley 2.51. No one wants to judge music by the stop-watch but there is a revealing gulf between them...Farley and the composer [are] the more active and vibrantly pliant. Elsewhere the disparities are consistent. Graham is much less inclined to lean on words and bend them to her will. Farley will buckle a line if necessary... Farley will break her voice, will emphasise extremes of register and of volume... The gains of Farley's approach are ones of immediacy and directness, qualities that mirror Rorem's own compositional traits; it illustrates just what attracted him to the texts in the first place. To blacken and cover words, as Farley does, is to illuminate a layer of meaning often lost...

Both Farley and Graham are so different in approach to the music that it would be no bad thing to possess both recordings... [but] don't forego the pleasure of Rorem's pianism in his own the windows and feel the bracing air of Carole Farley."

Alan Rich
LA Weekly, January 2002

"Carole Farley sings, and wonderfully, an hour's worth of Rorem songs, 32 settings of texts mostly American - Whitman, Stein, Frost, Roethke, et al. - and what first comes across is the absolute grace in the way music and words curl around one another."

Michael Oliver
Gramophone, January 2002

"Unrecorded gems from a master songwriter, sensitively sung by Carole Farley...Carole Farley's diction is so immaculate that you will hardly need the booklet of texts, and her acute response to words must be one reason why Rorem so willingly collaborated with her on this recording... Admirers of Rorem's unique talent (I've said it before, but I'll say it again: there is simply no finer living writer of songs) will simply have to have this collection. His piano playing is beautifully supportive."

Michael Anthony
StarTribune, December 2001

"Ned Rorem has complained for years that one of the reasons art songs are dying is that there are so few singers willing to perform them.

The situation must be improving. Rorem's music seems to be everywhere these days, and here is a splendid and generous set of his songs performed by an accomplished singer with the composer at the piano.

Carole Farley has a special sensitivity toward words, which are vital in Rorem's songs. Words, of course, are important in every song; but in Rorem's case, the words of the poems he sets are given special respect. The sense of the original poem is never clouded, although that sense might be expanded by the music and an extra tone of ambiguity might be added. In addition, the composer follows his own often-stated notion: Never repeat a word of the text in order to make a musical point. Other composers do it all the time, of course, but not Rorem.

These 32 songs, composed between 1946 and 1989, are gems, starting with a set of nine based on poems by Theodore Roethke, most of them composed in 1959, and concluding with five by Walt Whitman. Among the highlights: "The Serpent," in which the whimsicality of Roethke's text is underscored - or maybe envisioned - by the glittering piano part, which suggests a snake slithering through the grass. Robert Frost's famous "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" gets a gentle, lyrical setting, and Paul Goodman's "Such Beauty as Hurts to Behold" is lush and reverent.

Farley gives thoughtful readings of all of these, and Rorem plays with cool precision."

Robert Matthew-Walker
International Record Review, January 2001

"Record collectors all over the world have had good reason to be grateful to Naxos during the past decade or so. A welcome recent development has been the launch of its American Classics series, even if the word 'classics' in the title has to be interpreted pretty widely. That being said, I have always been astonished that the work of such fine composers as Ned Rorem and Benjamin Lees (among others) remains largely unknown outside the USA. Not that their music does not travel - perhaps it is that the composers themselves have not travelled; after all, when did Ned Rorem last visit London? He has nothing to fear, and could well be surprised at the warmth of his reception.

Well, if Rorem will not come, his music can, especially through this outstanding collection of no fewer than 32 of his songs, very beautifully and most idiomatically performed by Carole Farley, with the composer himself as her incomparable accompanist. The recording quality is very good throughout, and the provision of full texts and notes in the booklet add to the attractions of this inexpensive disc. But the music's the thing. There are some really fine songs here - particularly Little Elegy, The Nightingale and Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. Rorem's Whitman settings are particularly good and those which mean more to American audiences - Orchids, Nantucket and Ask me no more, among Rorem's complete settings of Theodore Roethe - will surely find new listeners throughout the world. Many people will wish to compare Rorem's settings of poetry with those which Britten also set - and not always to the American's disadvantage. This is a very important CD, which - in artistic terms alone - deserves wide circulation and success."

Lawrence Johnson
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

"Essential Rorem...It is in the realm of art song that Rorem's elegant style is at its most personal and communicative. [Carole Farley's] gutsy performances benefit from having the composer at the keyboard."

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