Leonard Link reviews Virgil Thomson: Three Pieces

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Leonard Link
October 24, 2010

Regular readers of this blog will know that one of my favorite singers is the baritone Thomas Meglioranza. I'm pleased to report a new recording by Mr. Meglioranza of music for baritone and orchestra by Virgil Thomson on the Boston Modern Orchestra Project label. He sings the Five Songs from William Blake and The Feast of Love, and joins with soprano Kristen Watson in Collected Poems, a witty setting of words and phrases by Kenneth Koch. Surrounding these vocal numbers is an extended instrumental prelude in the form of the composer's two brief pieces, A Solemn Music and A Joyful Fugue, and a postlude with the Three Pictures for Orchestra.

Thomson's music is infused with the hymn tunes of his Midwestern childhood, richly orchestrated and tweaked with little harmonic adventures. He varies his style accordingly to set the different texts. We should really hear the Blake songs more often in concert. They would make an interesting companion on a concert program to Copland's Old American Songs.

Meglioranza is in splendid voice and temperament in these recordings made in Boston about a year ago. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project's ensemble is a fine group, and Gil Rose does a splendid job of conveying the lush beauty of Thomson's music. Well worth the investment to learn more about an under-appreciated mid-20th-century American composer… and those Blake songs will haunt you long after listening.