What the Living Do

Susan Narucki’s recital disc of contemporary American art songs composed at the MacDowell Colony comes with an odd twist. In addition to songs by revered masters of the contemporary art song like Ned Rorem, Aaron Copland, Amy Beach, and David Del Tredici, there are recitations by Nathan Randall of poems by such luminaries as Elizabeth Bishop, Willa Cather, and Galway Kinell (also created during MacDowell residencies). While the intrusion of spoken word is somewhat jarring—when it comes to recordings, I confess a music-only listening bias for better or worse—the real treats are the handful of surprises by lesser known composers, at least of art songs, such as David Rakowski (cool as always) and Joel Phillip Friedman. Friedman’s epic “What the Living Do,” based on the title poem of Marie Howe’s 1998 collection, clocks in at nearly seven minutes and feels much larger than an art song. But who says art songs must be brief and aphoristic?