Reviews
Fanfare Magazine

Henry Fogel Review of Lineage Album Music

"What a wonderful collection, in every way! Randall Scarlata has received glowing reviews from a number of Fanfare critics, and now that I've lived with this disc for a month I understand why. He has put together an engaging and intelligently balanced program of American songs displaying contrasting musical styles that manage to live together without clashing. Scarlata performs everything with insight, dramatic conviction, and real musicality. His warm baritone has a wide range of colors at its disposal-dark and gloomy, warm and tender, sunny and bright- depending on the requirements of the music and text. the voice is strong and vibrant throughout its range.

More important than the good singing is Scarlata's commitment to words and meaning. His diction is crystal clear; the texts for Benjamin C. S. Boyle's Le passage des rêves is printed in the booklet (the one group of songs not sung in English). For the rest, Scarlata provides links to the texts via his website, but you won't need them. He is always singing words, never just notes. You could practically take dictation from these performances. The Barber and Ives songs may be better known than the rest, but the remainder sit comfortably alongside them. Elliott Carter's setting of Robert Frost was a delightful discovery. Composed in 1942, the songs pre-date the more modernistic Carter to come and show the influences of Copland and Nadia Boulanger on his early style. Carter manages some remarkable tone painting in "A Dust of Snow," for example. Charm is not the first word that comes to mind when describing this composer's music, but it is a strong trait here and in the output of his final decade.

Robert Maggio's songs flow naturally and easily, with a lovely jazz influence that Scarlata and his excellent pianist Laura Ward deftly convey. In Maggio's brilliant setting of Mark Strand's "Answers" Scarlata almost seems like two singers in the way he differentiates between the series of questions and answers that make up the poem. Boyle's cycle somewhat reminds me of the mélodies of Reynaldo Hahn; they are almost conversational in the directness of their communication.

Anyone with even a modicum of interest in vocal writing of the 20th and 21st centuries, and an interest in strong communicative singing (and piano playing), will be delighted by this disc. Excellent program notes by the singer and perfectly balanced recorded sound complete the picture."

Fanfare Magazine

Colin Clarke Review of Lineage Album

"Focusing on American composers, the present song recital sandwiches the more established name of Ives, Carter, and Barber between two newer voices.

The 2001 song-cycle Forgiving our Fathers by Robert Maggio (b. 1964) is remarkably powerful. Inspired by the film Smoke Signals(which features a recitation of the poem "Forgiving our Fathers" at the end), Maggio felt impelled to explore father-son relationships. Baritone Randall Scarlata has a lovely voice, velvety but capable of more laser-focused power when required. Flexible and free, Scarlata treats the lines with real love and care (in the final song, "Moon," for example). The nervous, jittery piano part for "The Tunnel" (poet Mark Strand) impels the drama onwards, imposing a sense of inevitability on the poem's trajectory: A stranger watches from outside the protagonist's house, leading to the creation of a tunnel into the neighbors' yard. After the tunnel is announced, victoriously, as complete, a sense of desolation suffuses the musical surface. The sense of loss in "The Empty Body" (the second of three Strand poems in a row) is remarkable. One may be tempted to hear a French influence in the harmonies in this latter song, but actually the language is Maggio's own. The emphasis is on the text in Maggio's work, the musical input all the more powerful for its understatement, something also heard in the question and answer format of the next song, "Answers." The poetry for the actual song "Forgiving our Fathers" is by Dick Laurie; this song rises to a relatively impassioned climax. The piano part is beautifully realized by Laura Ward, not least in the tissue delicacy of the final song.

The songs of Charles Ives are some of the true jewels of the repertoire, and deserve many more outings than they receive in the concert hall. Fellow baritone Thomas Hampson has done his bit for bringing them in front of the public; here Scarlata continues the good work. Scarlata's inflections of line are a dream in My Native Land (1895); yes, this is on the surface a parlor song, but one is more than aware that deeper things are afoot here. The Ives we all know and love is all there in microcosm in Walking (1902) before one of Ives's last songs, Ann Street, a masterpiece of brevity. Taking a text by his wife, Harmony Twitchell Ives, Autumn (1908) is a celebration both of Nature and of Deity, Scarlata's voice radiantly full-toned at the song's climax. Finally there comes The Camp Meeting (1912), in essence prolonging the theme of God that crowned Autumn. The song's origins in an organ prelude seem obvious in the long piano opening, beautifully sculpted by Ward. The long legato lines reveal Scarlata's feel for this music. A whole disc of Ives songs from this source would indeed be most welcome.

The three Elliott Carter songs are all brief, under two minutes each. Written in 1942, the Three Poems of Robert Frost are from early in the composer's long life. The contrast of slow-moving voice and capricious piano (splendidly played by Ward with just the right staccato touch) is well managed in "Dust of Snow"; the lighter, jaunty "The Rose Family." Finally, "The Line Gang" tackles the age-old problem of new technology and its effect on workforces: in this case, the then relatively brand-new telephone and the telegraph. The idea of unstoppable onward movement is viscerally conveyed by Carter. The songs of Samuel Barberoffer the beauty of his output in microcosm. This is his last work, written originally for Fischer-Dieskau and Charles Wadsworth. Roses again spring up, now in abject sadness: the desolation of "Now have I fed and eaten up the rose" is only partially balanced by the sprightlier "A Green Lowland of Pianos," a song that tells of a pasture where retired grand pianos go. Finally, the comes a rapt meditation on the symbolism of twilight in "O boundless, boundless evening." I see Scarlata has recorded Dover Beach (Sono Luminus: Fanfare 37:1); again, one feels that a whole disc of Barber songs from him would not be a bad thing.

The Benjamin Boyle piece is the first music on the disc not in English. His Le passage des rêves of 2007 takes the Symbolist poems of Paul Valéry and sets them within a language that unashamedly references earlier composers (Debussy, Schumann, Barber). The cycle is an exercise in mindfulness, the protagonist, as Boyle puts it, "trying to stay as long as he can in one blissful, perfect moment." The second song, "Les pas," includes a central piano solo that fascinates in its hesitancy, contrasting with the emotional outcry that follows. The scent of Impressionism informs the brief "Le sylphe" before dawn breaks with the radiant "À l'aurore."

It is difficult to imagine more sensitive piano playing than Laura Ward presents here; she is the ideal complement to Scarlata's intensely lyrical baritone. Only the text for Le passage des rêves is included in the booklet; the balance of texts is available on Randall's website.

American Record Guide

R. Moore Review of Lineage Album

"Here is a terrific collection of American songs by five important composers. The program begins with Robert Maggio's settings of com- pelling texts by Mark Strand, Dick Lourie, and Billy Collins for his also compelling 5-song cycle, Forgiving Our Fathers. With wit and intelligence Maggio evokes a variety of American musical styles and also quotes from Schu- bert's 'Doppelgänger'. Scarlata remarks in his liner notes that "Maggio's writing is never fussy or arty. Dramatic delivery of text is paramount, and Maggio writes in a way that allows the per- formers to project the song in a conversation- al, yet theatrical way." This is a wonderfully engaging work.

Benjamin Boyle's cycle Le Passage des Reves has four Paul Valery poems that, as Boyle puts it, tell of "trying to stay as long as he can in one blissful, perfect moment, living in perpetual anticipation. Of course, time does pass. The night finally ends with a paean to a glorious sunrise and all that it might promise." Scarlata adds "With music steeped in the rich- ness of Debussy, Schumann, and Barber, that is then tempered with the clarity and precision of the Boulanger method...he seduces the lis- tener with rich harmonies, and teases with deceptive cadences, sustaining our anticipa- tion to the last bittersweet cadence."

In between are five delicious Charles Ives songs, Three Robert Frost Poems of 1942 by Elliot Carter in his earlier (and still tuneful) style, and Samuel Barber's Three Songs writ- ten for Fischer-Dieskau-his final songs after a period of deep depression following the "fail- ure" of Antony and Cleopatra. These performances are commendable. Scarlata's direct conversational approach is clear and warm. His enunciation is lucid, his singing is expressive, and his technique is agile and flexible. There is much to like about this release.

Only the French texts and English transla- tions of the final four songs are supplied. For the rest of the texts you are directed to Scarla- ta's website. They are all English texts, and his enunciation is so clear that they are hardly needed."