Artistic quality: 10
Sound quality: 10
Overall impression: 10
Sonus Eterna 37423
1 CD • 62min • 2019
On 25 August, Illinois-born Gordon Sherwood would have turned 90. The former student of Philipp Jarnach, Aaron Copland and Goffredo Petrassi became popular in this country in his later years through the touching documentary film ‘The Beggar of Paris’, which traces the unique lifestyle of the composing globetrotter, who
following the Indian yogi model, earned his modest money by begging in order to be able to be creatively active in the remaining time, for which he received inspiration on his travels. However, he would probably have died bitterly impoverished had he not met the pianist Masha Dimitrieva, for whom he wrote his piano concerto and who took care of him. When he died in the Bavarian province in 2013, he left her his musical legacy, which she has been cultivating with devotion ever since – a stroke of luck also insofar as she is an
excellent pianist and musician. After a first set of solo piano works, Masha Dimitrieva has now teamed up with soprano Felicitas Breest to record a first set of Sherwood’s complete piano songs, all set to the composer’s own texts. These texts show him to be as extraordinarily gifted as he is versatile and a lyricist who grasps the zeitgeist with a light hand – as versatile and seemingly completely effortless as he is a composer. Sherwood was on the one hand a
Chameleon, could write in any style with consummate mastery. On the other hand, and this is even more astonishing and singular in this combination, he also has a personal style that shines through everything with an existing naturalness and eloquence. Sherwood was, especially in the small forms and instrumentations, a great, massively underrated composer who could create something substantial and stimulating from any material.
The four song cycles recorded here were written between 1967 and 1976 and, for all their sophistication, are as catchy as the songs of the great pop songwriters of the time. A striking phenomenon of the connection of cultures!
Felicitas Breest has preserved naturalness and fragility in her voice. She is at her best in the popular idioms, that is, in the delightfully caricatured Six Songs for Women’s Fashion of the 1960s op. 53, which culminates the bewildering tour de force through conflicting fashions in the Topless Bathing Suit, counterpointed with chaste music, and then winkingly propagates a fictional ‘Mixi’ style, and in the Five Blues Songs op. 60 of 1976 (both cycles were written in Kenya). The way Felicitas Breest makes the blues songs blossom in all their enchanting wonder and never noisy ecstasy is hard to imitate.
Masha Dimitrieva accompanies these popular songs with special stylistic adaptability. She is most at home in the more serious, darker (and here: earlier) songs, i.e. the Five Love Songs op. 24 (composed in 1967 after completing her studies with Petrassi in Rome) and the particularly dreary Five Songs for the Winter op. 30 (composed in 1968 in Beirut, where it was probably not so cold, but it is no less about mental coldness and rejection here!). The Winter Wind from it, ending with the death of the protagonist, sounds like a homage to Schubert’s Erlkönig, the concluding Retrospect is one of the most touching songs of an entire era. Special mention should be made of how Masha Dimitrieva keeps the polyphonic events alive, even in their most inconspicuous shades, far beyond a classical accompaniment function, and fills them with life everywhere without being embarrassed to slip into extravagance. That is conscious creation.
Sherwood’s music, however experimental his mind, is always (extended or traditional) tonal and immediately communicative. The listener takes part in a process that is full of surprises that do not require any extra-musical means or shock effects, but arise from the natural need for expression of an artist who is at home in the whole world and all its forms of expression and has not lost a fraction of his childlike joy of discovery: always fresh, never one-dimensional, unfathomably musical. The performers do justice to this with immense dedication and sensitive intensity, and a finely balanced recording technique and an appealing booklet text add to the attractive, stimulating picture. Apart from a few printing errors in the printed lyrics, only the back cover photo of the two musicians would have deserved a larger than postage stamp format, especially as there is nothing to hide here either.
Christoph Schlüren [22 .08.2019]
Gordon Sherwood (Sonus Eterna) – Klassik Heute (klassik-heute.com)