Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers (Cedille)

There is a wealth of diverse talent out there — all we have to do is listen

Artillery Row Lebrecht's Album of the Week


In a year when every US institution is trying to fly multicultural credentials, the unanswered question is whether classical music has anything positive to contribute. No major orchestra has gone beyond the token overture or intermezzo by a minority composer, and no work by an unsung artist has yet captured the spirit of these times. For all its diversity hiring and woke PR, the music establishment has not changed its ways, nor the audience its tastes.

I listened to this album with pleasure and affirmation

The present recital is something of a breakthrough. Will Liverman , a baritone much seen at the Met, has chosen songs by black composers of two or three generations, songs that undermine the whiter-than-white settings of bygone year. “Pale Hands I Love Thee” by Henry Burleigh (1866-1949) sounds richly, transgressively vivid beside the wispy orations of Rudolph Valentino and Richard Tauber.

An alternative “Amazing Grace”, set by Leslie Adams (b.1932), replaces humble faith with raw aspiration, unstoppable in its vigour. Two songs by Shawn E Okpebholo (b. 1981) remember racial attacks in southern states, while Richard Farina’s “Birmingham Sunday” leaves us with a glint of hope in an all-American narrative idiom.

Liverman summons up a gamut of emotions and colours, delicately supported by pianist Paul Sanchez. I listened to this album with pleasure and affirmation. There is a wealth of diverse talent out there and it has a variety of messages for our present confusions. All we have to do is listen.

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