Reviews of "She Walks in Beauty"
Woerner's Thrilling Contemporary Disc
Soprano Danielle Woerners 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 horses 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
"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. Woerners 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 neednt tell high sopranos how difficult this is.
Woerner makes it sound easy and inevitable, and you wont believe
how in-tune and lovely is her a cappella coloratura throughout the
devastating extremes of range in Luenings 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. Dont 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
"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
"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
"...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...
-- John Story, Fanfare, May/June 1999
A Thing of "Beauty"
(a pre-release review) by Mary Jane Corry, October, 1998. Taconic
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
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.
is a treasure"
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
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
|"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).
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
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
to be recommended."
Review by Daniel Webster in
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
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.
"Danielle Woerner's singing
is alert and infused
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.