and flowers pick themselves: Opera

Not since Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland has the Unites States had a composer of at once so classical, artful, demanding, theatrical and immediately accessible music as Ricky Ian Gordon. On this recording, this apparently infinitely talented weaver of tones presents music for both soprano and piano solo – music ranging from modern romance ("If You Can", "My Sister's New Red Hat") via blues-tinged jazz ("Air") to pure theatre music ("I Am Cherry Alive") – and the symphonic song cycle which has given the recording its name and which, by some right, may be viewed as a poetic side study to the opera The Grapes of Wrath and which at times glances in the direction of Stephen Sondheim.

This is deeply emotional music, sublimely interpreted, especially by Melanie Helton, whose resonant, richly mezzo-coloured soprano lends expression and nuance to Gordon's complicated, flowing musical tapestries. Gordon himself provides the nimble accompaniment for the chamber pieces while the Michigan State University Symphony Orchestra, under the musical direction of the hard-working Raphael Jimenez, provides the instrumental support for the titular work.

As is customary to Gordon's music, it is far more difficult to analyse than just to let oneself be swept away by the sheer beauty of it. As opposed to for instance Orpheus and Euridice, Gordon here has created messages in both lyric and music that elegantly dodge the intellect, finding their way directly into the heart.

– Fredrik Fischer, Opera