International Record Review, February 2004
by Roger Thomas
Both the Goehr and Thomas releases are of large-scale, sophisticated pieces involving the voice, so by way of contrast I would also recommend a disc of the works by Thomas’s compatriot Phillip Schroeder. Songs of My Affinities (Capstone CPS-8726, 51 minutes) is a collection of songs for baritone and small instrumental ensemble from an agile and perceptive composer. His obvious enthusiasm for literature is evidenced by his choice of texts by Poe, Whitman and Emerson, although his treatment of eight poems by Ogden Nash which opens the programme effectively demonstrates his ability to work with more light-hearted material.
This album features four adventurous works composed by Phillip Schroeder. Eight Songs on Poems by Ogden Nash makes entertaining use of short witty texts that observe a feature of an animal, insect, or water creature, with each set in a clear, declamatory style. Spirits of the Dead presents a set of five poems by Edgar Allan Foe in one continuous movement, evoking the allusions presented in the texts - loneliness, secrecy, silence, solitude, visions, shadows and stillness. Songs of My Affinities is a set of six songs addressing three perennial Whitman themes: the highest virtues of humanity, our interdependence with nature, and the spiritual and mystical ground of all experience. The Infinite in Repose is a recitative for baritone and synthesizer. The musical setting follows the tradition of a vocal style designed to emphasize the natural declamations of speech through lyric melodies. Phillip Schroeder’s music is, as ever, audacious and thought-provoking, and the performers are Robert Best (baritone), Steven Becraft (clarinet), Stephen Feldman (violoncello), Rick Dimond (percussion), Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi (piano) and Phillip Schroeder (synthesizer).
New Music Connoiseur - Helmut Calabrese - 2004
"Eight Songs on Poems by Ogden Nash (1996) for baritone, clarinet, violoncello, percussion & piano are haiku texts with highly condensed music adaptations. From eleven seconds to one minute and thirty-six seconds are the durations of these songs. The music manifests the whimsical content of the text using imitative settings that mimic inherent characteristics of the subject matter with thematic parodies that augment the hilarious content.
Spirits of the Dead (1999) for baritone and piano, which sets five poems by Edgar Allan Poe, is very successful in its use of the inside of the piano to orchestrate, with a multiplicity of textures, the profound message of the texts. The performance by the baritone Robert Best is magnificent. The songs are continuous in form with no interruptions using a recurring celestial thematic idea that appears in variations.
Songs of My Affinities (1998) for baritone, clarinet, violoncello & piano sets six poems by Walt Whitman. The settings are polyphonic with a consonant harmonic palate. The music has an American nostalgic elegance. The violoncello's thematic ideas, which seem to quote fragments of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time , add to the ethereal qualities of the composition.
The Infinite in Repose (2002) is a recitative for baritone and synthesizer that sets the opening paragraph of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essays: First Series , “Spiritual Laws.” The opening words, “When the act of reflection takes place in the mind,” begin the sonic exploration of textures that are free from thematic encumbrances. The unity is created by a continuity of reiterating timbres with variations occurring in the intervallic content of the vocal line.
These compositions are truly gems of the American repertoire. The settings are spontaneous and inextricably linked to the linguistic nature of the words; that is, the vocal line manifests the phonetic and semantic elements of the text while the ensemble orchestrates its content. The performances are all brilliant."
Sequenza21/ - July 13, 2005
"Phillip Schroeder (b. 1956) currently teaches composition and theory at Henderson State University in Arkansas. He studied composition with Barney Childs, Larry Solomon, Michael Schelle, Thomas Hanson and Frank Wiley. His compositional output includes orchestral, chamber and live electronic works. His Eight Songs on Poems by Ogden Nash is a delightful and witty setting of Nash’s clever animal poems. Schroeder has set the texts for baritone, piano, clarinet, percussion and cello; each movement is a brief, concise and very humorous setting. Spirits of the Dead for baritone and piano is a highly introspective setting of five short texts by Edgar Allan Poe. Spirits is a pensive and brooding piece, (which Schroeder seems to do so well.) Songs of My Affinities is a setting of five texts by Walt Whitman. It may be an unfair comparison but Songs of My Affinities reminds me of an early Elliott Carter setting of Three Poems of Robert Frost. Both works are very straightforward works that are striking and beautiful. The Infinite in Repose is a meditative aria for baritone voice with a gradually evolving synthesizer accompaniment.
The performers: baritone Robert Best, clarinetist Steven Becraft, cellist Stephen Feldman, percussionist Rick Dimond, pianist Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi, and Philip Schroeder on synthesizer. The performances on this recording are first-rate. Check out the music of Phillip Schroeder if you haven’t already."