With SUMMER’S DISTILLATION, Joseph Summer, as composer, offers a new look at the timeless texts credited to William Shakespeare. As artistic director, Summer presents settings by Brahms, R. Schumann, and Benjamin Pesetsky, curating an overall impressive collection of works for voice, harp, and horns.
Sonnets V and VI for voice, horns, and harp is raw and unfiltered—in a complex tonal language which illuminates stark text is the foreground. Sonnet CIV is an art song for mezzo soprano wherein the harp accompaniment plays the role of a lute or acoustic guitar. It is simultaneously heavy and graceful. Sonnet XCI for voice and horns, on the other hand, is regal and declamatory. Sonnet LXXIII for vocal ensemble, harp, and horns paints a dark forest scene—a cacophony of textures as soloists take turns, yet no voice or instrument is background. Finally, Sonnet CXXXIII, a duet for tenor and soprano against the scene painting of harp and horns, is a complaint about the interminably long delay between Summer’s proclamation of adoration for his (eventual) wife, Lisa Summer, and her prorogued agreement to accept his offer of love.
If by Your Art from The Tempest is a through-composed soprano aria with atmospheric harp accompaniment. The harp’s echoed scale fragments guide the thoughts of the actress—starting in pain and finishing in sweet respite. O God, That I Were a Man from All’s Well That Ends Well is a monologue running the gamut of emotions, from “I would eat his heart in the marketplace” to “she is undone.” This is balanced by music of centuries later, with Robert Schumann’s Drei Gesänge (Three Songs), Op.95, for soloist and harp, presenting settings of texts by Karl Julius Körner and three of the Hebrew Melodies by Lord Byron. Some of the highest inspiration for this album is Brahms’ Vier Gesänge, Op.17. Upon hearing it the first time, Summer recounts: “I experienced the music as a transcendent epiphany. It changed the course of my life.” It is extraordinary indeed, and Summer’s ensemble justifiably gives it life.
SUMMER’S DISTILLATION concludes with Answer and Question from All’s Well That Ends Well by Boston-based composer and writer Benjamin Pesetsky, commissioned by Summer for this collection of works. This work both serves to aptly round off the piece and leave listeners wanting more.