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An Invitation Indeed: L'Invitation au Voyage

The MHS Review 409, VOL. 12, NO.13• 1988

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Frank Cooper


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Invitations are opportunities. One is offered here, and there are two wonder­ful aspects to it. First, the repertoire: French art songs by two of the finest ex­ponents of the genre, Duparc and Faure, set to exquisite and famous poems by Li­sle, Baudelaire, Bonnieres, Lahor, Verlaine, Bussine, and Silvestre; and Vaughan Williams' hauntingly beautiful setting of Housman's poetic series On Wenlock Edge. Second, the artists: tenor Charles Holland and pianist Dennis Russell Davies, both musicians of unusual distinction.

The singer = s career has been a long and fruitful one. Born in Virginia, he studied there, in New York, and in Paris. Under Leonard Bernstein, he par­ticipated in the premiere of Blitzstein's Airborne Symphony and in the premiere recording of Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts. His international concert and opera career took him across Europe, where he sang major roles (in four languages) in such operas as Othello, Aida, The Pearl Fishers, La forza del destino, Cavalleria rusticana, and Faust and performed radio and televi­sion recitals. He was the first Black tenor to sing at the Paris Opera.

The accompanist's career has been devoted to conducting, his role in this recording being a special tribute to Mr. Holland. Born in Ohio, Mr. Davies studied there and in New York (piano performance as well as conducting). From co-directing the Juilliard Ensem­ble (with Berio), he became music direc­tor of the Saint Paul Chamber Ensemble (bringing it considerable attention in the critical press) and California's Cabrillo Music Festival. In Europe, he has had great success in Dutch and German opera houses, crowning his career with performances of The Flying Dutchman at the Bayreuth Festival and a seven-year sojourn as principal conductor of the Stuttgart State Opera. In 1985, he took the helm of the Philadelphia Orchestra's festival at Saratoga Springs and, the next year, became general music director in Bonn. His appearances as a pianist are all too rare, in view of the sensitivity he shows in partnering his soloist.

Music of the sort featured here re­quires the utmost in delicacy, charm, and nuance, in subtlety of tone and phrasing. The Holland-Davies collabora­tion is distinguished by these qualities in the French songs and, in the English, by an appropriately darker sound. Both minds think alike. The resulting unanimity is remarkable. It is obvious the respect that these men have not on­ly for each other but for the great reper­toire they are performing.

Interestingly, their decision to tour as a team stemmed from performing together in Bach's Christmas Oratorio in Saint Paul, Mr. Holland as the Evangelist and Mr. Davies as conductor. The duo's art-song evenings have been heard in the US and Europe (where this recording was made). Their interpreta­tion of On Wenlock Edge with various string quartets has won particular praise.

After repeated hearings of this release, it seems to me that owners of it might enjoy watching their friends do a dou­ble take after playing a few selections, say, at a party. Chances are that while several of the Duparc and Faure songs are well known, most music lovers will not recognize Mr. Holland's voice. His fame is less than a Pavarotti's. But it would not be for voice identification that I propose this stunt. I imagine, rather, that after "oohs" and "ahs" for the music and for the interpretations, the listeners' jaws will fall agape when they are told this simple fact: When the recording was made in 1982, Mr. Holland was seventy-three. There is nothing else like it in the MHS catalog.

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