Mulligan's beefy, immaculately focused baritone is ideal, capturing the music's inherent breeziness and relishing the nuances of the sophisticated poetry.Musical America
“…similarly smartly programmed is Alburnum, Brian Mulligan’s latest recital of song cycles by Gregory Spears and Mason Bates framing a solo song by Missy Mazzoli. The album opens with Spear’s Walden, a setting of four Thoreau texts that chart the 19th-century American transcendentalist’s self-imposed exile and ultimate return to society. Oscillating rhythms, insistent two-note melodies, and warmly open harmonies capture the poet’s longed-for simplicity. Mulligan’s beefy, immaculately focused baritone is ideal, capturing the music’s inherent breeziness and relishing the nuances of the sophisticated poetry.
Mazzoli’s As Long as We Live, a setting from Whitman’s Song of the Open Road, is the perfect codicil to the Thoreau. In just under four minutes, she builds unbearable tension in a plea for love and commitment. Mulligan’s unswerving, appropriately strident performance ends in an anguished, unaccompanied cry of “Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?”
Bates’s Songs from the Plays comes as a relief from all that angst, though the music often has a serious intent. The texts by New York poet Kenneth Koch deal with love, friendship, and art. They certainly inspire Bates, whose settings teem with good-humored fantasy and affecting emotion while teetering at times on the edges of tonality.
Mulligan enters fully into each miniature scenario, from the bittersweet “Bring Back the Beds” to the witty “They Say Prince Hamlet’s Found a Southern Island,” which imagines Shakespeare’s moody Dane relaxing on a sun-kissed beach and King Lear as an in-demand ivy league university lecturer.”
“Mulligan uses the spectrum of his vibrant artistry to penetrate the expressive depths of these songs. Whether the music calls for stalwart declamation or hushed utterance, the baritone is in handsome command.”
“Brian Mulligan’s second solo album features world-premiere recordings of two song cycles written for him by Gregory Spears and Mason Bates and a newly adapted one by Missy Mazzoli. The title refers to the layer of soft, new and living wood in the trunk of a tree that grows between the protective bark and the firmer, older heartwood. With texts and poems by Thoreau, Whitman and Kenneth Koch, the album explores themes of youth, rejuvenation and possibility but also ambiguity, uncertainty and evanescence symbolized by the alburnum, which will one day mature and harden. Throughout these selections, Mulligan’s endlessly elastic dramatic baritone pulses with dual strength and vulnerability that, coupled with pianist Timothy Long’s virtuoso and nuanced playing, are thrilling and captivating…”
Opera News’ CRITIC’S CHOICE