Composing America is an ambitious title, but the Lark Quartet lives up to it with an ambitious and diverse selection of American sounds. The lento opening movement of Aaron Copland’s Two Pieces evokes the wide open western spaces of Copland’s most famous works, like Billy the Kid, while the propulsive energy of John Adams’ Alleged Dances brings to mind the forces of minimalism and rock music. Four of the five dances presented here have percussion accompaniments written by the performer and approved by the composer. William Bolcom’s Billy in the Darbies sets to music a poem by Herman Melville which was later the basis for the novel (and Britten opera) Billy Budd.
Those who know the superb Lark Quartet will expect a total success, and they will be rewarded. The Lark Quartet in fact commissioned and premiered the Bolcom work and the Piano Quintet by Paul Moravec. These four women are at the forefront of composing America, and of performing it. Their collaborator on the Bolcom premiere was baritone Stephen Salters, who joins them ably to sing the poem on this album as well. As mentioned before, the four women of the Lark Quartet are impassioned advocates of this music, half of which they commissioned; Stephen Salters and Jeremy Denk were both also the intended first performers of the works they play here. The sound, engineered by Judith Sherman – of whose Grammy nominations I’ve lost count – and Jeanne Velonis, is exemplary.