Sometimes the recordings that stay in the catalogue for decades, that leap from format to format and refuse to slip into the limbo of the deleted and forgotten, are not the ones you would expect. No one is surprised that Furtwaengler's Beethoven or Toscanini's Verdi can be clicked on Amazon, but it is less of a given that the American composer Virgil Thomson's own 1947 abridged recording of his 1928 opera, Four Saints In Three Acts, should still be with us after all these years.
It is a terminally odd piece. Working with the then avant-garde American writer Gertrude Stein, Thomson set his full-length libretto, in which there are far more than four saints and a number of acts greatly exceeding three, in its bizarre entirety. Like much of her more extreme work, it is written in a style in which words are often strung together seemingly without regard for their literal meaning, creating collisions that bring little jolts of pleasure.
The text of one chorus, chosen at random from the abridged version of the libretto included with this CD, reads: "Saint Theresa can know the difference between singing and women. Saint Theresa can know the difference between snow and thirds. Saint Theresa can know the difference between when there is a day to-day today. Today. Saint Theresa with the land and laid. Not observing. Saint Theresa coming to go."
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