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Mary Kunz Goldman
The Buffalo News, October 2005

How wonderful it is that Naxos is conducting such a creative - whimsical, almost - survey of American music. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has participated in this series, with music of Griffes, Converse and others, and it's fascinating, how very different the various discs in the series are. The New York-based new music group Continuum poses like something out of Vogue magazine: smiling widely, clad in red. There's nothing superficial, though, about their approach to this graceful music by Virgil Thomson. Thomson was a fiery music critic, a boldly experimental artist, close friends with Gertrude Stein and a big fan of Parisian bohemian life. His songs, though, reveal a gentle and respectful soul and deep feelings for the Midwestern America where he grew up. Mezzo-soprano Ellen Lang takes an unsentimental approach to the Thomas Campion poems; the sensitive "There is a Garden in Her Face," with its arch echoes of the phrase "Cherry-ripe," is especially enchanting. It's fun to listen to Thomson play with the sheer sound of words, as he does with the witty Marianne Moore settings; the spare piano accompaniment seems inspired by the rhythm of the voice. And I know, Thomson wasn't religious, but his religious songs, like "Canticle of the Sun" and "Before Sleeping," again shine light on what must have been a generous, deep-feeling soul. Altogether, this is an illuminating glimpse of the reflective side of a great spirit of American music.

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