Strickling is a soprano of consummate artistry, who has made Art Song the cornerstone of her repertoire. In year 2019 she curated The New Music Shelf Anthology for Soprano. For her, the genre is much more then bourgeois entertainment for fancy dinner parties, rather as she writes in the liner notes, it allows for intimate communication between performer and listener. In some cases, giving her the freedom to say things she would not have the courage to discuss otherwise. “Song requires a commitment to honest interpersonal communication and invites an audience to participate in a group intimacy people tend to avoid these days. It is far easier to hide at home behind our technological devices…”
As a budding musicologist, I remember my Intro to Music History professor lecturing on the birth of Art Song in the beginning of the 19th century. She tied it to the invention of the piano and the rise of the middle class, comparing it to movies based on Jane Austen. Where after a big dinner, aristocrats would retire to the drawing room and eligible young ladies would display their musical talent for men in search of a wife. Though this metaphor is easy to understand, it is an incredibly simplistic way to look at an entire genre. Anyone who believes that is all Art Song has to offer, need only listen to Laura Strickling’s latest album, Confessions.
Confessions is truly a labor of love. The album showcases the work of Gilda Lyons, Tom Cipullo and Libby Larson, among others. Strickling has maintained close relationships with everyone who collaborated with her on this album and nowhere does that show more than in her work with pianist Joy Schreier, a long-time friend. Together they explore shifting tempi, dynamics, and instrumental colors to bring out the theatricality in pieces that explore everything from paying for a handbag to the end of a love affair. All the music featured here comes from the 21st century, and with the exception of Cipullo’s cycle “How to Get Heat Without Fire” all the repertoire has never been recorded previously. The program also showcases a range of musical styles covering the gamut from feminist rock anthems, as in Clarice Assad’s “Turn Back the Clock,” to full-blown operatic treatments of Shakespeare, as in Amy Beth Kirsten’s “To See What I See.”
The first thing that hits you when you listen to the album is the clarity and translucent quality of Stricking’s voice. It washes over the listener, enveloping them in her daydream as she fantasizes about being a more assertive woman in Assad’s “What Would They Think?” The pieces structure has two contrasting sections with a repeat of the first section at the end, not unlike a da capo aria. Here Strickling and Schreier seamlessly transition from anxiety to excitement and back to anxiety. Strickling uses her solid command of vocal technique such as diminuendos, ornamentation, and appoggiaturas to drive the narrative arc of the song. Her command of vocal technique is definitely a hallmark of the album which serves her well, whether its navigating the high notes which add to the excitement of “Turn Back the Clock” or navigating the passaggio and going from the top to the bottom of her range in “The Pocketbook” part of Cipullo’s cycle “How to Get Heat Without Fire.”
While much of the album is notable for Strickling’s ability to create sustained tone, a true singing artist knows when to break that for dramatic effect, such as the case in “A Mother’s Lament” from Lyons’ “Songs of Lament and Praise” cycle. Here she uses her vibrato to weep for the lost of her son. Later in the piece at the line, “O I am become a crazy woman for my son” she bursts out into full-throated operatic singing. She does the same thing during “To See What I See.” In this setting of Ophelia’s Act III soliloquy, Strickling shifts from pianissimo singing to a full-on dramatic soprano.
Additionally, this album demonstrates Strickling’s ability to play with text, such as in Assad’s “Fixation.” This piece, essentially about her love affair with junk food, is set to a tango. Strickling plays with words like ‘possessed’ and ‘resist,’ teasing out the s’s in a suggestive manner.
Confessions is the ideal album for anyone who wants to get to know more Art Song, as well as those who are just familiarizing themselves with the genre. All of the repertoire was written in the 21st Century and the majority of the pieces here receive their first commercial recording. Strickling and Schreier make a compelling case for all of the songs on this album. One can only hope that it will inspire other singers to follow in their footsteps and make these pieces standard repertoire.
Please find Confessions on Spotify: Confessions – Album by Laura Strickling, Joy Schreier, Sarah Eckman McIver
Also on Apple Music: Confessions by Laura Strickling & Joy Schreier