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Duets by Women Composers

Joys Abiding: Soprano & Baritone Duets by Historical Women Composers Dana Zenobi, soprano. Oliver Washington, baritone. Chuck Dillard, piano, harpsichord. Navona 6409 Total Time: 72:17 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ***/****

When teaching music appreciation courses, students are often struck at the lack of women composers but always curious about the ones that do appear (like Hildegard of Bingen, Fanny Hensel, and Amy Beach, and sometimes Barbara Strozzi). Enter this new release, Joy Abiding. The album is a collection of quite fine art songs by women composers covering a span of the Early Baroque into the modern era. Dana Zenobi and Oliver Worthington, the soloists here, are in the process of publishing an annotated anthology of some of this music which will be a welcome addition for young and old singers to discover. This album gathers together music by fifteen composers, a majority of them active in the height of the Art Song in the 19th Century.

Three songs by Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) open this interesting recital. Clarke’s composition talents notwithstanding, she is also important as one of the first women to become a professional orchestral musician as an accomplished violist. These works seem to be from across her output with a blend of parlour style with neoclassicism. The album then moves us through a variety of 19th Century works, all duets, that are fine examples of the Art Song and which touch upon popular 19th Century themes. The album shifts from German to French settings which also allows for some immediate comparison of song style shaped by the language as well as recent trends in those musical traditions. Works by the Hensel, Chaminade ( a quite stunning piece), Beach, and Viardot-Garcia provide some touchpoints for more familiar composers and their works. There is also an early madrigal by Francesca Caccini (1587-1640) which gives us an early look at that song style. Later Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) is also represented by another rare recording of a little duet. Listeners get a sense of the various text setting approaches and one can also tell that many of these women were accomplished pianists with the accompaniment being quite an equal partner in the 19th Century pieces here. The collection provides a fine variety of styles that all work well here in this recital. From classic art song strophic forms, to the parlor salon style, we are treated to a great variety.

Joys Abiding is being released in both a digital and physical format. Texts are available online to follow if one prefers. The unfortunate part though is that there is not a lot of information about either these composers or their music which will make this a more esoteric collection at first. Performance shifts to unaccompanied part songs and the use of a harpsichord for the older music is also missing from the album information. However, perhaps it will encourage listeners to also go searching for more music by these women whose music can easily stand alongside their more famous contemporaries.


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