The title of this disc comes from the second song of Vaughan Williams’ adorable cycle to words by Robert Louis Stevenson, Songs of Travel. The songs were composed in 1904, but published later in two volumes in what seems to be an almost random order. Or rather, most of the songs were. The last song of the nine, which most touchingly sums up the whole cycle, was apparently withheld by the composer, and only discovered in 1960. With that song in place, and the others in the now-established order, the cycle is a most rewarding twentieth-century counterpart to such earlier “wanderer” cycles as Schubert’s Die Winterreise.  Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins gives a most satisfying performance of this lovely work. The tread of the opening is just right, though the change of tempo for the third verse will be more extreme than many collectors will be familiar with. The song that gives the disc its title is one of Vaughan Williams’ most beautiful utterances, and its tenderness is well brought out by these artists…Hopkins is very successful in the two love songs that follow – he is particularly successful with the intense pathos of “In Dreams” – and indeed in the rest of the cycle…Composed in 1998, Canadian composer Srul Irving Glick’s cycle is a real find. The anonymous insert note writer refers to the composer’s “highly personal and contemporary musical language”, but in truth the musical vocabulary is scarcely more advanced than that of Vaughan Williams, and lovers of the earlier cycle will not be shocked at the sound of this one. The title, Images of Canada, encapsulates the work very well. Many of these images, in words by Richard Outram, are of natural phenomena, but others, such as the breathless whirlwind in the final song, “Windmill”, are of man-made features too. The music is highly melodic and memorable, the piano writing particularly rich and sonorous, and I recommend this work, which I had never heard, to all lovers of song…Samuel Barber’s Three Songs, Op. 45 were composed in 1972 for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. All three songs are very fine, but the second, in particular, “A Green Lowland of Pianos”, a quirky, humorous evocation of events in the lives of “herds of black pianos”, is sweetly beautiful in typical Barber fashion. Hopkins and Mosbey bring great intelligence to their performance which, taken on its own terms, is a very satisfying one.  MusicWeb International, William Hedley, Jan 24, 2011.

Joshua Hopkins won a Borletti-Buitoni award in 2006, and as this first recital disc of 20th-century songs demonstrates, he’s a baritone of real promise and vocal presence. Apart from the Vaughan Williams Stevenson cycle, Hopkins concentrates on little-known settings – few on this side of the Atlantic will know the eight highly wrought songs to poems by Richard Outram that make up South of North – Images of Canada by Srul Irving Glick (1934-2002), while neither Paul Bowles’s lovely Blue Mountain Ballads, with their mix of slightly faded lyricism and folksy Americana, nor Samuel Barber’s Op 45 songs, all settings of one poet’s translations of another, are heard as often as they deserve to be. Hopkins delivers them all with such care and attention to their meaning that it seems churlish to want a bit more variation in colour from his singing. Perhaps, too, a bit more musical variety would have made a difference: it’s all just a little too samey, and dipping in to the disc rather than playing it straight through might be the best approach.  The Guardian, Andrew Clements, Dec 16, 2010.

Themes of travel evoke the feelings of longing and at times, despair, and are well-loved devices of many poets. The song cycle embraced the idea of travel most famously with the works of Schubert and Mahler, but on this recording we get a wonderful, if at times tenously connected assembly of four contemporary cycles. The works of Vaughan Williams, Srul Irving Glick, Paul Bowles (yes, the Sheltering Sky Paul Bowles!) and Samuel Barber reach for the texts of great poets, including Nobel laureats. Robert Louis Stevenson, Richard Outram, Tennessee Williams, Czeslaw Milosz and James Joyce prove beyond reasonable doubt that a great song cycle does not have to be sung in German.  The young baritone Joshua Hopkins, a “product” of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, must have quite a trophy case at home: he is the winner of 2006 Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award, the Verbier Festival Academy’s 2008 Prix d’Honneur, Placido Domingo Operalia Competition, ARD Musikwettbeverb and the Julian Gayarre Singing competition. His baritone is of a powerful, virile, yet smooth variety, although some will quibble about the unexpected vibrato. The interpretation of at times difficult repertoire (try singing “during the artistic milking suddenly they lie down like cows” and make it convincing!) is flawless and well assisted by Jerad Mosbey’s intelligent piano playing. An interesting CD and a great addition to ATMA Classique’s winning streak.  theWholeNote, Robert Tomas, Dec 3, 2010.

Performance ★★★★1/2
Sound ★★★1/2
Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins has a pleasant, chamber-sized sound, and he’s competently accompanied on the piano by Jerad Mosbey. But the genius shown here is not in the singing but in the selection; Hopkins picks four works, none really well known, and puts them together in a delightful program loosely linked by themes of nature and wandering. The real find is the set of Blue Mountain Ballads by Paul Bowles, better known as a fiction writer. Written in 1946 to poems by Tennessee Williams, these four little humorous portraits would fit perfectly on a program with Copland’s Old American Songs. They’re accessible but far from unsubtle; sample the quite profound use of ragtime to suggest the inner defiance of the lonesome man in the song by that name, track 19. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel were written to a group of late, posthumously published poems of Robert Louis Stevenson. This early work has hints of the composer’s pastoral style, and the simple rhyme schemes of Stevenson’s lines (“Bright is the ring of words/When the right man rings them”) virtually call out for musical setting. The style of Canadian composer Srul Irving Gluck is conservatively impressionistic, but the texts by Richard Outram are quite varied; Gluck elegantly adapts his style to, for instance, a poem with very short lines about a chipmunk. The serious Three Songs, Op. 45, of Samuel Barber come from late in the composer’s life; they retain but darken his characteristic melodic idiom. This is an immensely satisfying program with a real find in the Bowles songs, which Hopkins sings in a diction style resembling African American spirituals, not absolutely true to Williams, but close enough to what Bowles, a New Yorker, probably had in mind. Notes are in English and French, but the song texts are given in English only.  AllMusicGuide.com, James Manheim, Dec 1, 2010

★★★★
In a carefully chosen program of English songs on the theme of nature,
Joshua Hopkins combines chestnuts (Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel) with the comparatively rare (Paul Bowles’ Blue Mountain Ballads). The centerpiece is the first recording of Glick’s South of North – Images of Canada. VW’s cycle is often mentioned in the same breath as Schubert’s Winterreise and Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, given the common theme of the wanderer in all three cycles. But Songs of Travel doesn’t have the unrelenting darkness, or, dare I say, neurosis, of the Schubert or Mahler. The vocal writing of VW and Glick tends to push at the extremes of the singer’s range. Hopkins’ beautiful baritone remains solid and assured, a few uncomfortable moments in the low register notwithstanding. Perhaps a bit more variation of his timbre for dramatic expression would have been nice, especially in the Barber. Also Hopkins’ enthusiastically rolled r’s in ‘Bright is the Ring of Words’ take some getting used to, but that’s quibbling, as his affinity for these songs is never in doubt. His ‘Whither Must I Wander?’ and ‘Let Beauty Awake’ are lovely. If Hopkins’ delivery of the VW cycle and the Barber songs tends to be a bit straightforward, the contrasting moods of the Bowles songs are nicely done. Pianist Jerad Mosbey offers solid and sympathetic support. This is an auspicious debut disc and hopefully the first of many.  La Scena Musicale, Joseph K. So, Nov 1, 2010