There are many lovely things on this recording of songs by Garth Baxter about loss and memory, and of marrying words to music. Most are sad, and the composer’s idiom is simple, straightforward, old-fashioned romantic, but in each Baxter’s ear for matching the rhythm and sense of the verse quickly allows him to identify the central point of emotional interest at which his inspiration and the singer’s art intersect.
At the smaller end of the scale Baxter’s setting of Sara Teasdale’s exquisite Nights Without Sleep, with its ending line ‘my life will live on in music after me’, gives tenor Peter Scott Drackley, who sings with remarkably clear diction, an opportunity to be full-throated and ardent before giving way to 40 seconds of a gorgeous piano coda. Baxter does again and even more effectively at the end of ‘Let it be forgotten’. The most poignant is ‘Is this the cost?’ from his opera Lily, sung beautifully by Baxter’s wife Katherine Keem.
The best is the longest, ‘Grandmother, think not I forget’, a sweet love song set to a text Baxter co-wrote with his wife, drawing forth from Jessica Satava her best work, at times unforgettably. There is also clear, bright singing from Annie Gill in two songs set to poems by Linda Pastan and Christina Rossetti. And throughout, Andrew Stewart at the piano is a singer’s dream.
The songs were recorded between 2013 and 2017 at different venues in and around Baltimore and yet the sound always seems consistent and true. Brief notes and complete texts are provided. Laurence Vittes