Songs From A Spiral Tree

The Vocal Works

James Dashow


James Dashow’s double album SONGS FROM A SPIRAL TREE—new from Ravello Records—collects many of Dashow’s vocal works into an abundant two-disk set. The album presents his compositions for voice, with instruments and electronic sounds, setting poems by Theodore Roethke, John Ashbery, John Berryman and Gian Giacomo Menon.


Songs from a Spiral Tree is first on the program; flute (doubling piccolo and alto flute), harp, and mezzo-soprano blossom out of the silence as the track begins. Dashow deftly captures the many moods of the fleeting imagery and quicksilver language of Roethke’s poetry, while each of these five songs create a deeply personal and intimate listening experience. Perhaps for this reason critics have called this some of Dashow’s most inspired work. Following on the Roethke work we hear settings of another legendary poet, John Ashbery. Ashbery Setting, for soprano, flute, and piano, is meticulously crafted music, which provides a deeply expressive interpretation of the poem, Clepsydra, one of Ashbery's finest efforts. The second disc  features two works with stereophonic electronic sounds: in Sul Filo dei Tramonti, due Liriche dalla Mont, poems by Gian Giacomo Menon, the electronic sounds work In tandem with soprano and piano. The sounds add contrapuntal and timbral textures that further elaborate the expressivity of the text. Some Dream Songs sets the words of John Berryman whose short, complex, and above all ironic, poems inspired Dashow to enlarge considerably his compositional bounds, yielding a definitely theatrical dimension to the work. The soprano sings, talks, converses with the violinist, sings ironic comments to the pianist, and so on. This piece can easily be heard as a  kind of precursor of Dashow's planetarium opera, ARCHIMEDES. The second of the two works with electronic sounds, Second Voyage, for tenor and computer generated electronic sounds, concludes the two-disc collection. In this piece, the vocal pitches are processed using additive synthesis, ring modulation, and other methods of sonic manipulation. The result is a web of electronic sounds, varying in density and complexity according to the pacing and imagery of the text, that enhance the vocal line while immersing the words in an expressive interpretive context. The synthesized sounds, which showcase the early state of computer music as it existed in the late 1970s, are still evocative today.


SONGS FROM A SPIRAL TREE is a fascinating wide-ranging collection of poetic-musical settings. Notwithstanding the very different texts, Dashow's unique and finely nuanced voice is heard throughout. Each work explores different dimensions of the composer's  musical  conceptions in order to both complement and deepen the poetic text. These are major contributions to the vocal repertory, music that communicates a varied yet subtle palette of human emotion with rich expressive depth.



Release Date: November 13, 2020

Catalog #: RR8046

Format: Physical & Digital



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Ravello Records is the contemporary classical label imprint of audio production house PARMA Recordings. Dedicated to highlighting forward thinking composers and musicians from around the world, the New England-based label's eclectic catalog offers listeners a cross-section of today's up-and-coming innovators in orchestral, chamber, and experimental music.

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