The star American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato calls herself a “belligerent optimist”. It’s a strong phrase, and a fine one, reflecting her determination to harness her high profile to an end beyond herself. Nor is she shy of addressing the biggest issues, from liberty to war to, now, our planet. Eden (Warner), conceived with her regular collaborators Il Pomo d’Oro and conductor Maxim Emelyanychev, with dryad-inspired art work to match, is a post-pandemic call to action: to repair, to replenish.
The 16 tracks, some instrumental, open with Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question and rove freely, from a premiere recording of Rachel Portman’s prayer-like The First Morning of the World to the baroque composers we associate with DiDonato, to Mahler and, yes, Wagner. The shifts and contrasts illuminate: As With Rosy Steps the Morn” (Theodora) is followed by Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen from Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder; Aaron Copland’s Emily Dickinson setting, Nature, the Gentlest Mother, flows naturally into the bizarre Sonata enharmonica by the 17th-century Italian Giovanni Valentini.
Il Pomo d’Oro are agile and adaptable, especially fast and furious in the dance of the furies from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. Concept albums such as this tend to attract cynicism. Made with such dedication, Eden provokes thought and, through the persuasions of music, asks us to engage. There’s no reason to resist.