Langorous melodic lines or fragments, often with an unmistakable Americana flavour, interact in the orchestra, and the vocal parts engagingly follow suit. If Wilder's play is to have music, Rorem's is credible and often exquisite. - Financial Times
This is the world-premiere recording of Ned Rorem's (b. 1923) acclaimed setting of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, one of the best-known plays of the 20th century. Intended from the start to be a chamber opera, the orchestration is small, and the scoring is light and transparent throughout - consistent with a work best suited to young voices. Rorem moves in and out of speech and utilizes more elevated recitative (parlando) than in his previous theatrical works. He manifests Wilder's "emotional shyness" with abrupt stylistic cross-cutting between Americana (Thomsonian faux-Protestant hymns, plush sustained cinematic strings, Copland-esque woodwind solos, Ivesian collages), transatlantic modernism (the tartly-scored "sting" chords, jagged, off-kilter ostinatos in close-canon, denatured melodic fragments in place of memorable tunes), and Gallic lyricism (rapturous string obbligatos, sudden snatches of emotionally-vibrant melody, Debussy-esque orchestration). Everywhere in the music there is a sort of cool, self-contained regretfulness - the regret so central to the play's initial impetus, a regret so intense as to border on dread - that perfectly underpins and undercuts the sentimentality of the portraits.
Rorem believes that Satie's Socrate may be "the greatest of all operas." Certainly, he exploits in his score for Our Town the same kind of baroque cantata textures and affects as Satie did in his 1920 masterpiece. But the Rorem and McClatchy Our Town also contains - in the propulsive, off-kilter ostinati percolating uneasily beneath the Nantucket matter-of-factness of its musical surfaces and its stubborn unwillingness to wear its heart on its sleeve - an astonishing undercurrent of unanticipated, and highly effective dramaturgical fury.
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