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Reviews of "She Walks in Beauty"


Woerner's Thrilling Contemporary Disc
April 2001

Soprano Danielle Woerner’s She Walks in Beauty (chamber music and songs of Otto Luening and Robert Starer) (Parnassus PACD 96012) is an extremely important recording. Important because it gives us an unmistakably authentic “from the horse’s mouth” view of some ravishing modern vocal music (Woerner worked and performed extensively with Luening; Starer is present on the disc as pianist in his own music), and important because it captures and presents a uniquely gifted artist in her glorious prime. These are fascinating songs with staying power which should give repertoire ideas to many a singer.

"This is an extremely important recording.... [both] because it gives us an unmistakably authentic 'from the horse’s mouth' view of some ravishing modern vocal music... and because it captures and presents a uniquely gifted artist in her glorious prime."

This is moon music, secret garden music with a Lewis Carroll whimsicality, music that spins a light yet firmly grounded spell. If the music is childlike in the best sense (ie.manifesting an open, uninhibited connection with the creative source), so is Ms. Woerner’s singing. Her voice is pure and sweet across an incredibly wide compass. Her use of it conveys innocence with a guileless directness of expression. Her superb musicianship and the soundness of her vocal method enable her to execute the odd intervals with perfect intonation and strike clean attacks on the highest notes with no strain whatsoever. While singing with absolute instrumental purity of tone and rhythm, she speaks the words in a totally intelligible, directly conversational manner. I needn’t tell high sopranos how difficult this is. Woerner makes it sound easy and inevitable, and you won’t believe how in-tune and lovely is her a cappella coloratura throughout the devastating extremes of range in Luening’s “Night Song.” Having all of these qualities present in one interpreter must be beyond gratifying for her composers. It certainly is for the listener, rendering this “strange, modern music” easy and effortlessly accessible, friendly and enveloping. Don’t miss this one.

-- Freeman Günter, Classical Singer, April 2001 [Read the whole review]


From Rob Barnett's review in Musicweb: Classical Music on the Web
July 2000

"The soprano Danielle Woerner has been associated with the songs of Otto Luening and Robert Starer since the 1980s....

"Woerner's voice is gently contoured but vibrantly powerful. There is a hint of Dawn Upshaw about her or even Cathy Berberian (at least when she was in fine voice as in the recording of the Berio Folksongs). Woerner is all these songs demand: arch, humorous and impassioned....

"Woerner is all these songs demand: arch, humorous, impassioned....I hope [she] will go on to record other rare Americana."  

"The 24 page insert booklet...covers, in considerable depth, a biography of the two composers, Danielle's introduction to the songs, the full texts (all songs are in English) and the usual artist biographies.

"Collectors of twentieth century song will need this disc which is superbly documented and warmly recorded. Parnassus and Woerner have done each other, the composers and the listeners proud. I hope that Woerner will go on to record other rare Americana. I am now left deeply intrigued by the other music of both Starer and Luening. "

-- Rob Barnett [Read the whole review]


From Paul Turok, Turok's Choice: The Insider's Review of New Classical Recordings
April 2000

"Especially gracious songs by Otto Luening, and songs by Starer, are effectively sung by Danielle Woerner with fine instrumentalists."


From John Story's review in Fanfare
May/June 1999

"...Luening's idiom is basically tonal and highly melodic...The wordless Suite for Soprano and Flute showcases the melodic aspect brilliantly, [and his] songs with piano are all quite lovely. The composer sets poems by Blake, Byron, Dickinson, and others. The four tiny settings of Emily Dickinson are especially fine and they make one want to hear the entire set of nine these are taken from.

"All of the singing is quite lovely"  

"The Luening is coupled with three chamber works by Robert Starer. Although also tonally Romantic, Starer's idiom...has a certain rhythmic drive that makes the younger composer's music sound more 'modern'....The eight songs [comprising Images of Man] are rapturous and yearning for the transcendental, aspirations entirely appropriate to Blake's mystical texts....In Letter to a Composer, Starer sets a fictional letter from an aspiring composer to an established composer in a work of great charm....

"Woerner has a high, bright soprano of considerable technique along with perfect diction....all of the singing is quite lovely, and the soprano's various accompanists do an equally fine job in what is obviously a labor of love. The recorded sound is fine...

"Recommended."

-- John Story, Fanfare, May/June 1999


A Thing of "Beauty"
(a pre-release review) by Mary Jane Corry, October, 1998. Taconic newspapers

A new CD by Woodstock-based soprano Danielle Woerner, and instrumentalists of the area, has just been produced by Parnassus Records. It is a treasure. The music is by Otto Luening and Robert Starer, and the CD is called "She Walks in Beauty," the title of the first Luening song. Woerner has done us all a great

"[This recording]
is a treasure"
 
favor; without this recording many of Luening's songs might never be heard, and now we also have some of our favorite Starer songs to replay as often as we like. Woerner' s voice has always impressed this reviewer for its clarity, true pitch, range, variety of sonorities and beauty of tone. She applies vibrato where it seems right to do so, and avoids the ambiguity of a constant vibrato which obscures the pitch of so many singers. One can always understand her words. All of this is also true of this recording. She has chosen some of the finest instrumentalists in this region to join her in the songs and chamber music performed here: Patricia Spencer and Marcia Gates, flutes; Jean Kopperud, clarinet; the Hudson Valley Philharmonic String Quartet (Carole Cowan and Emily
  
Faxon, violins; Valentina Charlap-Evans, viola; Susan Seligman, cello); and pianists Sylvia Buccelli and Robert Starer (the composer himself). Included with the CD is a 24-page booklet giving background and complete texts of the songs.

Both composers, Luening and Starer, are experts at setting texts for their drama, rhythm, and/or verbal sonority. By reading the text of the songs before listening, one is prepared to enjoy the musical choices these composers make for each word. Woerner's diction is faultless.

Luening's compositional style in these songs is not what one might expect from someone who, with Vladimir Ussachevsky, established the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. For the most part, these songs are quite tonal, and it is only in the last set on the CD, "The Soundless Song," that dissonance prevails. The latter was written early in his career, and one would expect a 23-year-old to "buck against the traces" of a Romantic tonality. As a flutist himself, Luening wrote frequently for the combination of flute and soprano. One of the most challenging on this recording is his "Suite for Soprano and Flute," a kind of virtuosic wordless vocalise, in which Woerner shows her skill at vocal gymnastics and her command of a very wide pitch range.

"This CD is a major contribution
to the recording field"
 

The texts which Luening chose include poems by Emily Dickinson and William Blake. Starer also chose Blake, but, in addition, two written expressly for the composer by Gail Godwin - "The Ideal Self" and "Letter to a Composer." In the latter Starer gives the soprano the challenge of virtuosic passages and high range, and creates a dialogue with flute and clarinet. String quartet completes the sonority. The whole is a fascinating little drama, very effectively set to music. The text of "The Ideal Self' offers some very good advice. "Images of Man" (text by William Blake) consists of eight short poems of sharply differentiated moods. Starer sets each appropriately with extraordinary wordpainting. In "I am Weary," the word "beams" is a chillingly beautiful moment for soprano and flute. "It is an Easy Thing" begins with a jazzy, "bluesy" rhythm with pizzicato cello, and then switches to serious sustained sounds to match the mood of "the price of experience" and the desolation of "wisdom" sold in a "market where none come to buy."

This CD is a major contribution to the recording field. It provides rewarding minutes of music. One result will surely be that many singers will add these works to their repertory. The sound quality of the CD is good, and the notes and texts provided increase the pleasure of this listening experience (Parnassus Records, PACD 96012).


Review in Records International
January 1999

Why, exactly, one of this country's finest composers tends to be taken for granted, or regarded as a figure of historical importance who wrote an autobiography that is practically a history of 20th-century music, while scant attention is paid to his considerable output, is a

"This disc is much
to be recommended."
 
slightly distasteful mystery, but nonetheless, this seems to be the fate that has befallen Otto Luening. Luening was a student of Busoni, pioneer of electronic music, and a composer of finely wrought, expressive music which flirts cleverly with atonality and modern techniques while remaining lyrical, ultimately tonal, and deeply satisfying. The songs on this CD demonstrate plainly what a major composer for the voice he was; the variety and range of expression is simply astounding. Starer - who also lends his authority to his own accompaniments here - is another figure who has been with us for many decades, and has created a sizeable body of high quality work which is less acknowledged than it might be. This disc showcases both composers to their advantage, and is much to be recommended. Danielle Woerner (soprano), Hudson Valley Philharmonic String Quartet, Robert Starer & Sylvia Buccelli (piano), Patricia Spencer & Marcia Gates (flute), Jean Kopperud (clarinet), Susan Seligman (cello).


Review by Daniel Webster in Philadelphia Inquirer
February 21, 1999

She Walks in Beauty:
Songs by Otto Luening and Robert Starer.
Danielle Woerner, soprano, with pianists Robert Starer and Sylvia Buccelli, flutists Marcia Gates and Patricia Spencer, clarinetist Jean Kopperud and cellist Susan Seligman.

Otto Luening (1900-96) was a father of electronic music but also a composer of more traditional works. The 21 songs on this disc are disarmingly simple. The writing is spare, direct, transparent, and the effect of the poetry enlarged through thoughtful singing and playing.

"Danielle Woerner's singing
is alert and infused
with the right lights."
 
Four Emily Dickinson poems and three by William Blake are highlights here. Luening's music slips inside the brief Dickinson poems, making a few seconds of music glow like flowers. Danielle Woerner's singing of them is alert and infused with the right lights.

Luening wrote his own musical credo into the lyrics of "The Soundless Song." Woerner performs 10 songs by Starer with the composer at the piano. His music, less distinctive than Luening's, sometimes substitutes craft for inspiration. The eight "Images of Man," with flute and cello, summarize the skill and expressive simplicity that mark the best of his work.