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Michael Murray Brings Listeners Down Different Passages

Passages: The Music of Michael Murray Genevieve Fulks, soprano; Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Stanislav Vavrinek Allison Storochuk, clarinet; Minju Choie Witte, piano. Navona 6427 Total Time: 54:00 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****

Composer Michael Murray teaches at Missouri State University in Springfield and presents here four entrancing vocal settings displaying his penchant for colorful orchestration and lyricism. The album has to larger works for orchestra and soprano soloist that bookend the two chamber song cycles. They are performed by the stunning soprano Genevieve Fulks who has a clear vocal presence here and just the right dramatic flair to make for an interesting overview of Murray’s music.

Passage to Nod (2019), the newest piece on the collection, is based on texts from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. The set of six poems are a snapshot of a child’s day from waking until bedtime. The musical language is primarily tonal with added dissonance to create some of the tension along the way. “Good Night” is particularly interesting in the way the brighter quality of the voice is placed across sinuous, dark textures in the orchestra. A bit more creeping chromaticism appears in “Shadow March”. The final “In Port” is a rather beautiful conclusion to this intriguing orchestral song cycle.

Genevieve’s Cats (2017) uses poetry by William Wordsworth, William Butler Yeats, and John Keats to lay out a similar passage of time. Here the three songs follow the life of a cat from its days of kittenhood to old age. The playfulness of the opening setting with its more angular skipping clusters is quite fun. Darker timbres are drawn from the piano in the central setting with some subtle angular writing that recalls the opening. Some text is also spoken here which is a bit interesting. There are aspects of each song that are also incorporated into the final text setting which helps provide an overarching connectivity to the work. Stevenson’s aforementioned collection was also the source for the texts set in Penny Whistles (2015). It is a bit more interesting with its addition of a clarinet to intertwine with the piano accompaniment and voice. The opening “From a Railway Carriage” also provides some much needed forward motion to the album with an opening flurry of movement in the piano that adds tremendously to the excitement. The more lyrical and languid style (effective particularly in “The Moon”) heard in the previous pieces is also a primary component to the shape of the six texts set here as well.

While listeners may gravitate to the opening two works the most, it is The Last Invocation (2016) which may be the standout work here. Murray wrote this in memory of his brother using a text by Walt Whitman. The music has a mysterious sort of feel in its opening elegiac strains with a gentle release in the way the voice declaims Whitman’s text. The slow, final moments help provide just the right amount of release and reflection. It is a quite moving orchestral setting well worth the wait!

Genevieve Fulks has a gorgeous tone and stunning vocal quality that helps communicate Murray’s setting quite well. The writing also feels very well adapted to the forces at play with its tendency to subtle orchestral color as accompaniment and more dramatic force to move things along. Passages is indeed an interesting collection of contemporary orchestral and chamber art song worth seeking out.


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