Tongues of Fire: The Fetch; After the Voices; Tongues of Fire; A Dead Man’s Embers etc
James Gilchrist (tenor), Eric McElroy (piano)
SOMM SOMMCD0665 75:07 mins
American composer Eric McElroy has excellent taste in poetry. This appealing album of contemporary songs for tenor and piano draws on an inventive array of modern texts, from British poet Alice Oswald’s joyful celebration of water to WS Merwin’s enigmatic texts on nostalgia and displacement. These are songs that at every turn revel in the interplay of music and language, and are performed with aplomb by James Gilchrist with the composer at the piano.
The album opens with The Fetch, setting five poems from esteemed British poet Gregory Leadbetter. Leadbetter’s rich imagery is a fine match for McElroy’s zingy compositional voice, notably in the piano writing which skitters up and down the keyboard with wonderful colour and vivacity. In ‘A Short Story of Falling’, a complex setting of Alice Oswald’s account of water’s endless journeying, Gilchrist brings due power to the surging, ecstatic vocal line, while After the Voices, five settings of WS Merwin, offers welcome repose with somewhat sparser interpretations of these reflective and beautiful poems. The album closes with six bold settings of Robert Graves’s early war poems. Gilchrist is on particularly fine form in these compelling, mercurial songs that flit with a certain wild abandon between the playful and the ferocious.
McElroy’s playing, while highly accomplished, at times feels a touch too bright and dominant in the balance, but this is otherwise a highly enjoyable album that celebrates the interplay of text and music with intellect and flair.