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Music Swims Back to Me is a selection of Anne Sexton's poems put to music by modern composer Julia Powell and sung by soprano Ellen Ritchey, backed by a string quartet, piano, and percussion. The lyricism and despair found in Sexton's poetry have been brilliantly translated into music. The choice of a chamber ensemble saves the poetry's fragility and retains the intimate tone of the writing. Ritchey's performance is convincing, even gripping at times, but not flawless. The music draws on romantic ideas, Bartók's string quartets, and Shostakovich and Lutoslawski's chamber music. For the most part it remains surprisingly listener-friendly, including the well-controlled atonal passages that depict emotional turmoil. The opening title piece and "Fuis Sur Ton Âne, Anne/Music Swims Back to Me (Reprise)" stand out as particularly moving and effective, both in terms of composition and performance. The closing "Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled" is a work for choir and piano. It brings a strange solemn touch.
From the label: "Music Swims Back to Me" is the music of Athens composer Julia Powell with text by Anne Sexton. The small chamber ensemble of percussion, strings, and the glorious soprano of Ellen Ritchey provides the perfect accompaniment to all the contradictions and clarity in Anne's poetry. A journey to the darkest shadows of the soul amidst redemptive, heartaching lyricism, this is an exceptional modern classical conceptualization. The coda of sorts in the church chorus "Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled" completes a magnificent immersion into a world of unrest, longing, and deep discovery.