Alice Parker’s Emily Dickinson

Review by: David Vernier

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Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

In the realm of American choral music, Alice Parker is among the most revered names for her immeasurable contributions to the repertoire as composer and arranger (notably her fruitful collaboration with Robert Shaw), as well as for her achievements as conductor and teacher. Particularly notable: her efforts produced a significant catalog of high quality music, much of which is accessible to school, community, and church choirs.

Her conviction that melody is the foundation of human music-making influences all of her works, and this collection, settings of poems by Emily Dickinson (a lifelong favorite and inspiration, whom Parker admires for the “elegant simplicity that informs her art”), is an affirmation both of Parker’s melodic priority and effective text setting. You appreciate both of these aspects with the very first musical exposition of the opening selection, There’s a certain Slant of light, with its ideal realization of the poem’s rhythm accompanied by a perfectly tailored melody. And this is the pattern for each successive setting–The Bustle in a House; Under the Light, yet under; A Shade upon the mind, and throughout all 33 pieces.

Some are a cappella, others accompanied by various instruments–cello, piano, flute, clarinet, string quartet. All are sung with impressive ensemble clarity, precision, and a convincing expression that likely comes from this group’s long association with the composer. The variety of settings gives listeners lots to digest–from solo songs (not among my own favorites) to some more complex and demanding ensemble pieces (Three songs from an Exultation of Birds; Three Seas). But it’s all well worth hearing. Parker may be best known for her arrangements, but this excellent recording gives us a chance to really appreciate her for another side of her creative gifts, a treat that no choral fan should miss.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Heavenly Hurt--Poems by Emily Dickinson

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