I've been a Rorem fan since hearing a highschool friend perform some of his work in her college recital. His startling, atonal songs were an instant revelation. For years there were few reliable CDs of his vocal work. A scandal considering his reputation rests more on his art songs and chamber music than on his orchestral pieces. This Naxos entry of a wide overview of his best songs is thus quite welcome, due largely to its availability, wide distribution and professional packaging (he's had some shoddy issues before with incorrect liner notes, etc.; the challenge of the low budget).
I can't call myself an unalloyed fan of soprano Carole Farley however. Her delivery here recalls the speak-singing style of German 12-tone composers (a specialty of hers), and can sound melodramatic, especially when she rushes the more delicate passages.
I prefer Rorem's softer, more melodious French side, the one that descends from Impressionism and is more warmly emotive. While Farley loses the shading of some of the more fragile songs, she is well-suited to the longer, more forceful pieces. I've heard many readings of "Early in the Morning" (one of Rorems most popular songs) by male and female vocalists, and its tale of wistful nostalgia is muted by Farley's direct approach. However, she nails "My Papa's Waltz," a fractured setting for a Roethke poem about a frightened child forced to dance with a drunken father. Here her acting skills come to the fore, and she perfectly captures the tipsy madness of the song. Rorem can be quite theatrical himself on occasion. She does almost as well with "See How they love me," a ballad with a regular pace that allows her assertive style to breathe.
At any rate it's great to hear these lovely songs in a recent (2000) recording, accompanied (rather emphatically, but perhaps he's matching his theatrical singer) by Rorem himself.
The similar Susan Graham album is more to my taste, but this is a more than competent bargain set.