VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Songs of Travel. KEEL: 3 Salt-Water Ballads. HOWELLS: King David. COPLAND: At the River. KOHN: Ten Thousand Miles Away. MEDTNER: Wanderer’s Night-Song. SCHUMANN: Mondnacht / Will Liverman, bar; Jonathan King, pno / Odradek ODRCD389
This is the recording debut of Will Liverman, a baritone whose operatic roles seem to encompass much older, light roles such as Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, Marcello in La Bohème and Figaro in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, but he has also sung in productions of Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges and Glass’ Akhnaten, and he created the role of Dizzy Gillespie in Daniel Schnyder’s short-lived opera Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Opera Philadelphia. Judging from his vocal timbre, however, I’d say that he is a dramatic baritone in the making.
The opening song, “The Vagabond” from Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, is one that I know very well from the old Peter Dawson recording. Liverman’s voice is solid from the mid-range up, but in lower notes it has a loose vibrato, yet his timbre is rich and attractive and, best of all, his diction is crystal-clear. He doesn’t quite sing this song with the relish that one heard from Dawson, but then, neither does anyone else, not even Bryn Terfel. He does, however, color and shade the voice nicely. Obviously, then, he is a conscientious artist, and thus I have to give him points for that.
His accompanist, Jonathan King, is a member of the modern piano school. Everything is played crisply, with excellent technique, generally brisk tempi and a nice glitter to the tone without ever really sounding as emotionally engaged in the music as Liverman is. The effect is something akin to listening to Hermann Prey singing with a piano roll, but at least Liverman’s artistic sensibilities keep us engaged, and he floats a nice D-flat at the end of “Roadside Fire.” There were several moments in this recital when it suddenly struck me that there are parts of his voice that reminded me very much of young Leonard Warren. He clearly has the ability to both soften and open his voice up, much like young Warren.
When we reach Frederick Keel’s 3 Salt-Water Ballads, the recorded sound changes. No longer is Liverman’s voice recorded crisply and clearly, but rather swimming in too much reverb, as if he were singing in an empty high school locker room. Yet his artistic sensibilities remain intact; in fact, if anything his interpretation of the words in these songs is even a bit livelier than before.
On the downloaded tracks I reviewed this CD from, there was scarcely any space between the last of Keel’s songs and Herbert Howells’ King David, but by and large I found the latter a pretty boring song, with nothing much musically going on in it. Aaron Copland’s setting of the old folk song At the River has been done to death by singers over the years, but Liverman’s surprisingly soft, delicate approach to the song breathes fresh life into it. I had never heard Steven Kohn’s Ten Thousand Miles Away, but it sounded to me like yet another British “salon song” of the 1910s or ‘20s.
I was particularly happy to see that Liverman chose to sing one of Nikolai Medtner’s songs; so few artists sing them nowadays, and they’re generally excellent. This one is no exception, calling for the baritone to sing fairly low in his range. Liverman sings it with great expression, though his Russian diction needs some work.
The recital closes with the most familiar song on the entire album, Schumann’s Mondnacht. Liverman does a nice job on it, but I think he should have sung it a key or two higher since the notes he tries to “float” on here lie smack in the middle of his range and are not conducive to that sort of thing. Other than that, he does a nice job on it, the second chorus coming out more successfully than the first.
Overall, a very good first outing for this immensely talented baritone. I hope to hear much more of him in the future.
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)