Album review: All Who Wander
"Pinterest boards about exotic locations... the thought of tasting ethnic cuisines in places where they're local rather than "exotic"... Loreena McKennitt's 1997 2x platinum album The Book of Secrets... swapping stories with friends and family about places we've been that we'll never forget... the thought of sharing the gift of traveling with my nephews and expanding their world... my passport, just glaring at me from my desk..."
These are the things that give American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton a sense of wanderlust; it's a feeling that inspired her debut solo album - aptly titled All Who Wander - a collection of lush, Romantic songs that speaks of Barton's love of exploring and staying curious. She also collaborated for the first time with pianist Brian Zeger, whom she describes as "like the produce at Whole Foods: organic and gorgeous!" Though it was their first project together, Barton recalls that "from the first moment we sat down together to work through these songs, we knew it was going to be an easy, natural, mutual storytelling."
Barton's voice falls seamlessly into the warm beauty of songs by Mahler, Dvořák, and Sibelius. Knitted together with the theme of vagabondism, the songs on All Who Wander "create equally rich musical landscapes and emotional journeys as they portray characters deeply connected to nature and their surroundings, with poignant stories to tell and insights to share."
Mahler's Fünf Lieder nach Rückert, plus three additional songs, open the rich world of sound that Barton and Zeger create. Rückert's poetry always seems a curious spin on the usual suspects of German Romanticism - love, nature, longing - and their subtly skewed meaning leaves a lasting impression. Barton writes in her album notes, "As a listener, I've always felt that Mahler's setting of Friedrich Rückert's text sounds as if the singer is just at the edge of the gossamer border that separates life from heaven, curiously reaching forward."
With Zeger's fantastic mix of transparency and grounded earthiness, Barton unfolds her voice into Mahler's music with ease and care. Her "Um Mitternacht" held us rapt, and she too seems to share our special love for Mahler's stunning setting of "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen". Barton resists the traditional interpretation of the song - finding peace in death. "To me, it speaks of releasing your worries and, in that way, it's a song of no regrets, of pure contentedness. I've never felt that one need wait for the end of one's life to find that satisfaction, and so I connect with this song in my own life's journey to finding the happy quiet space within myself."
All Who Wander marks the second time we've heard Barton sing Dvořák's Gypsy Songs; she performed them with James Baiilieu at Wigmore Hall last month, her recording with Zeger has that same abandon. There's almost something androgynous about Barton's voice, which seems to make these songs even more universal; like a raised eyebrow, Barton sings confidently of worldly wisdom, indulging us in the catharsis of admitting one's sadness, and the real power of nostalgia with her heartbreaking "Když mne stará matka zpívat učívala".
"Sure, I didn't grow up in a gypsy camp," says Barton of her connection to Dvořák's songs, "but I do have fond memories of playing music around a bonfire with family and dancing. I treasure my memories of family members teaching me the songs of where I come from. I identify with trying to find myself, and wanting to walk/dance/boogie down to the beat of my own drum."
Barton's pick of songs by Jean Sibelius include two of our own personal favourites. "Flickan kom" is the world's oldest story - a girl meets a boy, she falls in love, he disappoints her - told like a fable, right down to the rule of three. Listening to Barton and Zeger's "Var det en dröm" is close to impossible without getting goosebumps. Zeger makes beautiful work Sibelius' rich and ergonomic piano writing (which is a total pleasure to play), and he brought out the sense of the piano's observing what happens in the song, commenting with compassion.
We listened to All Who Wander on a rainy afternoon in London; Barton's singing is just as much a warm hug on a cold day as it is a refreshing breeze in the heat. The album is produced by Adam Abeshouse, and it's available on Delos Productions and on Amazon.