NATS Journal of Singing - March/April 2004
"There is much to applaud in this collection, but especially the artistic courage with which it was assembled. Soprano Joyce Andrews has gathered together twenty-eight songs featuring the words of Emily Dickinson, but has entirely bypassed the familiar songs of Copland. (She also bypasses William Roy's "Nobody knows this little rose," which is perhaps the best known and most accessible of all Dickinson songs.) Instead, she has chosen songs written by fourteen different American and British composers, some of whom are almost completely unknown, representing an impressive range of styles. Fortunately, we are given information about each composer, plus brief program notes that shed some light on the Dickinson mystique. The texts of the poems are not included, which is a hindrance especially to fully enjoying the most musically adventuresome pieces contained here. Otherwise, this is the sort of complete package that a special project like this is meant to be.
Joyce Andrew's voice and vocal style works well in almost all of these Dickinson songs. Hers is a substantial voice that she uses in an unfussy, unpretentious manner ideal for this sort of repertoire. The sound flows easily and powerfully in every register and almost never sounds pushed or strident. The most significant deficiency is suspect intonation around the B and C above middle C, which causes her some grief especially in the Baksa songs. There is also a definite sense that Ms. Andrews is happiest when singing out fully and freely; only very occasionally does she pull the voice back to a true pianissimo, and even then its brilliant timbre keeps the voice from ever sounding truly hushed. All the same, she is an exceptionally musical singer and her technical poise never deserts her even in the most turbulent songs. Her accompanist, Beverly Hassel, is a stunning partner, and, in songs like John Duke's "Bee! I'm expecting you!" they manage to achieve breathtaking perfection while seeming to toss off the piece with carefree abandon.
Two of their faculty colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh contribute to some of the most memorable moments on the disk. Cellist David Cowley provides the sole accompaniment for William Sydeman's setting of "I Heard a fly buzz," and he and Ms. Andrews perform it as though its strikingly dissonant sounds were nothing alien to them at all. The two songs by Persis Vehar for voice, cello, and piano are a fascinating contrast; "How happy is the little stone" is a delightful romp, while "The martyrs even trod" is a raw and painful funeral dirge. By contrast, the three songs by British composer Betty Roe, which feature tenor Frank Hoffmeister, are much more accessible and lighthearted include two rhapsodic songs by William Hawley which, according to the liner notes, were composed especially for Ms. Andrews, and single examples of the music of Ned Rorem, William Bolcom, and Vincent Persichetti. Another striking song, "Members of the Resurrection," features perhaps the soprano's loveliest and gentlest singing on the disk; the song leaves one curious about composer Elaine Hugh-Jones and also makes one grateful that the disk was put together with such an eye for the uncommon."
Fanfare - September/October 2004 - John Story
"Emily Dickinson is probably, along with Walt Whitman, the most-set American poet. The most famous is the Copland set of 12 songs, but that barely scratches the surface of what is available. Several seasons ago, Renée Fleming gave a recital in the context of William Luce's The Belle of Amherst that consisted of mostly new settings of the poet. I also reviewed and extensive set of excerpts from Leo Smit's set of over 80 songs setting the poet's words. Here we have another 28 settings by 14 more composers who work in the widest possible range of styles, from folksy simplicity to stringent atonality. Despite the vast array of styles on hand, each of the composers has seemed to find his or her way into the very special world of Dickinson's poetry. William Bolcom, Sylvia Glickman, Elaine Hugh-Jones, Vincent Persichetti, Ned Rorem, and William Sydeman are each represented by a single setting. Ernst Bacon, ARthur Farwell, William Hawley, Lee Hoiby, and Persis Vehar have two each, John Duke and Betty Roe, three. Robert Baksa has the largest set at six. The Sydeman and Vehar settings involve cellist David Cowley; the Roe, tenor Frank Hoffmeister.
This would be a daunting program for any singer but Joyce Andrews, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, as do the other artists, is the real deal. She studied with Rose Brampton, and her photograph suggests an artist who is well past her first youth. The voice is in excellent shape, a fairly bright lyric soprano that somewhat brings to mind Phyllis Bryn-Julson. Not surprisingly, the voice can become a bit strident on loud high notes but the control is enviable. To judge from some of the difficulty in the music heard here. Andrews has no technical problems whatsoever; and beyond that, she is so completely inside the words she sings that the missing printed texts are not needed. Every word is deeply felt and crystal clear. The recording is nothing special, with a fair amount of room noise that is not carried through between tracks, so there is a definite break at the end of each song. This is that rarity, the recital by an unknown artist of mostly unfamiliar material on a small label that deserves the widest possible recommendation."