"Rappahannock County" lays in the northern most part of the Commonwealth of Virginia, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This area was heavily active during the "War between the States," and this activity inspired lyricist Mark Campbell and composer Ricky Ian Gordon to title their song-cycle after the location. The 90-minute work is divided into five sections, one for each year of the Civil War (1861-1865), in which the texts give us insight into the conflict's evolution and its impact on the citizens of the county. Campbell read through a myriad of source material, narrowing and editing down until settling on the actual testimonials included here. The piece reads as a "Civil War meets 'Working'," referring to the musical theater piece based on the Studs Terkel book, which similarly took firsthand accounts of people's opinions on a central theme and set them to music.
The texts create an effective series of views on the war from the townspeople of the county, and range from comments on religion and politics to, of course, slavery. Gordon's music is primarily tonal, yet the wide range of texts, without repeated speakers, prevent any motive establishment, which may disappoint listeners looking for musical themes to grasp. However, judging by the appreciative response from the live audience on this recording, this issue appeared irrelevant.
Recorded at the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk, Virginia, in 2011, the five singers give yeoman performances, playing multiple roles throughout the cycle. Baritone Mark Walters, mezzo Faith Sherman, tenor Matthew Tuell, baritone Kevin Moreno and soprano Aundi Marie Moore deliver beautiful performances of Gordon's score under the able baton of Rob Fisher.
The recording also contains six gorgeous art songs of Gordon's under the title "Late Afternoon," written in 2001. Inspired by his visit to Provincetown following the 1997 death of his partner, Gordon's writing is passionate and cathartic, expressing his need to purge his feelings, and using the writings of Marie Howe, Jean Valentine and the poet Jane Kenyon to accomplish this goal.
Ricky Ian Gordon / Mark Campbell / Rob Fisher / Virginia Arts Festival Orchestra
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