A crossover album you won't want to cross back from
During the noon hour of Friday's WFCR classical music, we'll offer two numbers from a new album so beautiful, so moving, that I'm welling up just thinking about it. It's another example of how some of the most worthwhile classical music nowadays comes out of the oft- and unfairly-disparaged genre (a vast and diverse set of genres, really) known as crossover. So what is it this time? Plácido Domingo crooning Barry Manilow? A new St. Matthew Passion from Sir Paul McCartney? Renée Fleming duetting with Iggy Pop?
Much as I'd love the hear those (and who wouldn't?), the crossover we're playing today is much better, far more natural — not a contrivance, but an honest musical act of homage, gratitude and love. And it features an extraordinary, multi-talented performer who, somewhat out of the limelight (though not off of WFCR's playlist), is building one of the most rewarding classical discographies around.
All right, enough with the suspense, and out with it already. It's American bass singer and lutenist Joel Frederiksen (above right), with his Ensemble Phoenix Munich, with their latest CD for the Harmonia Mundi label: "Requiem for a Pink Moon — an Elizabethan Tribute to Nick Drake." For those not in the know, Nick Drake (1948-1974, above left) was a reclusive English singer-songwriter whose three complete albums ("Five Leaves Left," "Bryter Layter" and "Pink Moon"), little appreciated in their time, are now widely admired for their spare, chilling beauty. While utterly unaware of him while he was around, I became a Nick Drake convert several years ago, and have since rarely gone more than a few days in a row without partaking of at least a few of his haunting songs. Contrary to their reputation as dark and depressive, I find his recordings to be near-miraculous expressions of light and hope, and never fail to be uplifted by them.
Clearly, Frederiksen feels the same way about them, as you can hear in the simple, loving renditions of 13 Drake songs on "Requiem for a Pink Moon." No "classical" over-interpretation here, just natural (though deeply cultivated) musicianship in service of great music. Of course, the new versions no more supersede the originals than do any new covers of classic recordings. But by performing them in the manner and context of Elizabethan songs and other early music, they tell us something about Nick Drake that even Drake's own renditions don't. And if our broadcasts of the new CD, along with this blog, compel you to discover Nick Drake for yourself — and please do if you haven't yet — then I would be most gratified.