CD Review: These Distances Between Us

By Bob Dieschburg

“These Distances Between Us” – the album’s title, drawn from Jessica Rudman and Aiden Feltkamp’s “The Flight,” reads like a motto to its melancholy set of 21st-century lieder and their description of both solitude and emotional, if not spiritual, longing for wholeness and love. As such, it is a compelling reverberation of the Covid-era zeitgeist that seamlessly integrates Naxos’ catalog of “American Classics.”

The album features mezzo-soprano Emily Jaworski Koriath and her husband, Tad Koriath, on the piano. It was initially meant to showcase chamber music but the outbreak of Covid-19 forced the couple to retreat into the lied format supplemented, so to speak, with the occasional bout of computer generated electronics.

Consequently, “These Distances Between Us” offers a varied tour d’horizon of contemporary American art songs, including works by Edie Hill, Jonathan Santore, Jessica Rudman, and Craig Brandwein.

Distances in style

Thematically, the songs – organized into cycles – are based on a mix of imagist, expressive, and symbolist texts by as diverse a group of writers as the American feminist Amy Lowell, Aiden Feltkamp, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Sulpicia from Ancient Rome. The musical idiom changes accordingly with Emily Koriath switching from the neo-romantic sentiment of Brandwein’s “A Secret” to the postmodern eeriness of Rudman’s “The Ward.”

In the latter, for instance, Rudman’s soundscape reconstructs the “thunder of wild machines” as the subway with its “weary travelers clogging Laguardia airport” becomes the backdrop of the narrator’s rumination on illness and separation. It is the staging of silence, however, in the song’s unaccompanied passages that makes for its strangest and most disquieting effects.

I personally liked Craig Brandwein’s “Four Songs of John Charles McNeill” best. Written in traditional meter and with incisive rhyme schemes, McNeill’s poems (reproduced in the liner notes) lend themselves to the more conservatively melodic style of his compositions. In the “Rilke Songs,” however, momentum shifts and Brandwein uses the artificial sound of the synthesizer to stress the circular motions of rhythmic progression rather than melody.

The Human Condition

For Emily Koriath and her husband the difficulty lies in proverbially striking the right tone for every lied. Edie Hill’s “The Giver of Stars” with its reminiscences of American classics like Gershwin and Copland calls for an entirely different set of both vocal and interpretative skills than the low-tessitura of Santore’s “Letters to Sulpicia,” written as a dramatic monologue and supplied with electronic music.

Similarly, Brandwein’s “Four Songs of John Charles McNeill” are much more in the orbit of early 20th century art songs (Percy Grainger’s, for instance) than Rudman’s set of compositions.

On the whole, Tad and Emily Koriath find an admirable balance between theatrics and classical musicianship. As such, Emily Koriath never sacrifices expressiveness for the sake of fine legato singing – and vice versa. Her voice shows a pleasantly warm timbre and a solid middle register which technically meets all the demands of “These Distances Between Us” but occasionally reveals some harshness when transitioning to a higher range.

I likewise commend Koriath’ clear diction and sense for the lieders’ underlying poems and their semantics, as they contribute to making “These Distances Between Us” a wistful and oftentimes chilling description of the human condition in times of mutual estrangement, between Covid and raging wars.


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