WHO IS SYLVIA
Joseph Summer’s WHO IS SYLVIA, new from Navona Records, is a collection of Shakespeare’s works set to music that will make you question everything you thought you learned in high school English. Summer believes that the famous playwright’s true identity is not William Shakespeare but rather Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Many of the songs found on WHO IS SYLVIA come from Summer’s aptly-named The Oxford Songs, a collection of scenes, sonnets, songs, and Summer’s original opera version of Hamlet. These are paired with music from the likes of Schubert and Schumann to create a dynamic and colorful musical experience worthy of the Bard himself.
The sharp, aggressive cello attacks of “Sycorax” opens the album, peppered with edgy dissonances. This piece by Summer is one of many world premieres on this record, recorded at Worcester’s legendary Mechanics Hall. Next comes three settings of Shakespeare’s song “Who is Silvia?” from The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Each one extracts a new layer of meaning from the tender, heartsick lyrics, the first employing mezzo-soprano and harp, the second featuring a downright bluesy violin and sung in German as composed by Adolphus Hailstork, and a third with music by Gerald Finzi. Just as Shakespeare was known for addressing the social and political situations of his day, Summer’s world premier piece “Come Thou Monarch of the Vine and Hearing Transcript” pairs Schubert’s setting from Antony and Cleopatra with words taken from the 2019 Brett Kavanaugh hearings. After a song cycle by Schumann and several other pieces from other composers, the album concludes with three Shakespeare settings by Summer.
Much like Shakespeare, Summer keeps his audience engaged by constantly exploding their expectations. From one track to the next, the listener can never be quite sure what they are going to hear, and this keeps the ear at rapt attention. Surely, this album offers something for every listener.
This release features the award-winning Ulysses Quartet, in residence at the Juilliard School of Music.