Robert Manno Home “...a composer of serious music of considerable depth and spiritual beauty”—Atlanta Audio Society
Explorations IV Spring 2004
Atlanta Audio Society

Robert Manno (b.1944, Bryn Mawr, PA) is a composer of serious music of considerable depth and spiritual beauty. Interestingly, he pursued a career as a singer while he was getting established as a composer, and the lyrical impulse is as evident in his instrumental as in his vocal music. The musicians heard on this CD have all been his associates, either in the New York City Opera or the Windham Chamber Music Festival, a concert series in the Northern Catskills that he founded in 1997 with his wife, violinist Magdalena Golczewski.

The program begins impressively with Sextet for Strings (1995), a single-movement fantasy in five connected sections, with a Larghetto section that builds and builds to a stunning climax, a gently rocking barcarole-like fourth section, and a quiet, restful coda. It will remind many listeners of Verklärte Nacht, and does not suffer in comparison with Schoenberg's masterwork. Three Poems for Two Violins and Piano (1987) is a very accessible piece that nods to the spirits of Debussy and Ravel in the first two movements, and to 60's be-bop and 80's minimalism in the third. A Mountain Path (1993) expresses Manno's love of nature and actually incorporates two birdcalls and a thanksgiving dance of the Delaware Indians who inhabited the Catskills.

The disc concludes with settings of memorable poems. First, Stiller Freund der vielen Fernen (Silent friend of many distances, 1988), a setting for soprano, violin, and piano of Rilke's poem on transcendence through the thirst for knowledge (“And if the earthly has forgotten you, / say to the earth, I flow. / To the running water speak: I am”). Then, in Fern Hill (1973), Manno's setting for baritone plus an ensemble of flute, clarinet, French horn, English horn, two violins, viola, cello and double bass perfectly captures every mood, nuance, and shade of meaning in Dylan Thomas' meditation on childhood adventure, the passing of time, and death (“And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns / about the happy yard and singing as the farm was home, / in the sun that is young once only, / time let me play and be / golden in the mercy of his means”).