October Skies. © 2023 October Sky Ensemble


Complex and Interesting

Songs for tenor, violin, cello and percussion, enjoyed by GEOFF PEARCE

'... the tenor, Brian Thorsett, has an admirable technique ...'


October Skies is quite an interesting CD released by MSR Classics. I enjoyed the songs. I have to admit to being stumped by the layout of the booklet format that I downloaded with the recording though, and this was somewhat frustrating.

The first work on the disc is entitled Dante Fragments by Daron Hagen (born 1961). It is in three short songs. The first one is autumnal in feeling, and nostalgic: 'Remember tonight, for it is the start of everything'. Apart from a passionate climax in the middle, the mood is subdued. There is some fine writing for voice, violin, cello and tuned percussion.

Listen — Daron Hagen: Remember tonight, for it is the start of everything
(Dante Fragments)
(MS 1826 track 1, 1:48-2:38) ℗ 2023 October Sky Ensemble :

The second song, 'There is no greater sorrow', is sad, and the voice is rather like a chorale, against which the accompanying instruments provide a more complex and interesting backdrop.

Listen — Daron Hagen There is no greater sorrow (Dante Fragments)
(MS 1826 track 2, 1:37-2:18) ℗ 2023 October Sky Ensemble :

The third song, 'Love insists that the loved love back', is a much more cheerful little piece and the instrumentation is very skilfully applied. In this work, overall, I like the instrumental parts more than the vocal part.

Listen — Daron Hagen: Love insists that the loved love back (Dante Fragments)
(MS 1826 track 3, 0:34-1:18) ℗ 2023 October Sky Ensemble :

The next work, by Brian Holmes (born 1946), scored for tenor and violin and entitled There was an Old Man, was inspired by the absurdist poems of Edward Lear. This comprises eight very short songs, all of which are entertaining and witty. The songs are all variations of the first one, and are quite inventive and enjoyable.

Listen — Brian Holmes: There was an Old Man with a flute
(There was an Old Man)
(MS 1826 track 6, 0:52-1:16) ℗ 2023 October Sky Ensemble :

This is followed by one of the last works written by Welsh composer Hilary Tann (1947-2023). ... Against the shore is based on Gerald Manley Hopkins' sonnet The Sea and The Skylark. It is scored for voice, cello (which imitates the sea) and violin, imitating the skylark using open harmonics. This very effective and moving single movement work lasts just over eleven minutes and is, I think, probably the most challenging for the tenor.

Listen — Hilary Tann: ... Against the shore
(MS 1826 track 12, 5:36-6:25) ℗ 2023 October Sky Ensemble :

The Solitude of Stars, a very effective song by Stacy Garrop (born 1969), is a five minute work. (The track list said three minutes!) This is an arrangement, for wordless voice and percussion, of what was originally the third movement of a sextet. It pictures an expanse of sky over a prairie landscape, unimpeded by city lights.

Listen — Stacy Garrop: The Solitude of Stars
(MS 1826 track 13, 2:53-3:33) ℗ 2023 October Sky Ensemble :

Merciles Beauté by Michael Scherperel (born 1947) is a setting for voice and cello of the Chaucer Verse in Middle English as was spoken at the time. It is in three verses which follow the scenario 'boy meets girl', 'girl dumps boy' and 'boy gets over it'. The composer wanted an accompaniment to the voice that would not seem too out of time, but at the same time would help paint the mood of the three verses. These somewhat remind me of some of the vocal settings of Benjamin Britten.

Listen — Michael Scherperel: So hath your beautè (Merciles Beauté)
(MS 1826 track 15, 0:00-0:45) ℗ 2023 October Sky Ensemble :

The final work on this disc is Three Appalachian Folk Songs by Edgar Girtain (born 1988). These were originally English folk songs which were transplanted in America and sourced from the collection of Cecil Sharp.

The first song, 'Good Morning, My Pretty Little Miss', is scored for voice and cello, and the cello initially supplies a drone-like accompaniment that becomes more intricate as the song progresses.

'The ballad of Barbara Allen' is the longest song at ten minutes in length. It is scored for violin and voice at first, and then, as the verse takes a darker turn, the cello takes over from the violin. Later, the violin is added again. This is a sad song of the death of two would-be lovers - he dying because she would not love him, and she dying because he had, but on death, their hearts were united. The whole work is a lament.

The final song, 'The Rocky Mountain Top', is somewhat defiant and basically alludes to a broken promise of love. It is a fitting end to a great CD.

Listen — Edgar Girtain: The Rocky Mountain Top
(Three Appalachian Folk Songs)
(MS 1826 track 19, 0:00-0:37) ℗ 2023 October Sky Ensemble :

I enjoyed this interesting disc. The instrumentalists are skilled and enthusiastic. I found that the tenor, Brian Thorsett, has an admirable technique and a voice that at times reminded me of John McCormack, had he used modern recording equipment.

Copyright © 20 October 2023 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



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