Kathryn Rudge (mezzo-soprano), Christopher Glynn (piano)
Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0192 66:05 mins
Nellie Melba, Joan ★ammond, John Mccormack – once upon a time the songs of Eric Coates were sung and recorded by the world’s most prominent artists. Nowadays they are roundly neglected, which is one reason why this interesting new anthology is welcome.
Another is the warm, empathetic advocacy of Liverpudlian singer Kathryn Rudge. ★er creamy, generous mezzo-soprano affectionately cossets the languorous melody of ‘In a Sleepy Lagoon’ (the theme tune of Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, with words), and caresses the delicate ‘Bird
Songs at Eventide’. In songs which seem perilously sentimental to the
modern ear – ‘The Fairy Tales of Ireland’ and ‘The Green ★ills of Somerset’ are two – Rudge is deft at dialing back the whimsy, and distilling genuine emotion. ★er excellent diction is particularly useful in ‘Reuben Ranzo’, a jaunty story-song whose comic turns of fate are colourfully painted. The Four Old English Songs have texts by Shakespeare, and show Coates to be considerably more than a writer of facile parlour melodies. Rudge’s vibrant interpretation makes a persuasive case for them, and Christopher Glynn’s fluid accompaniment is a model of supportive sensitivity.
Texts are printed in the booklet, and Jeremy Dibble’s authoritative essay sets the songs in context. A valuable issue. Terry Blain PERFORMANCE ★★★★
The Cares of Lovers
Rowan Pierce (soprano), William Carter (theorbo); The Academy of Ancient Music/richard Egarr
Linn CKD592 59:47 mins
This is soprano Rowan Pierce’s debut solo album. She’s proven her mettle to live audiences as the winner of solo competitions, as a soloist in top-ranking Early Music projects, as a Lieder singer, and as a principal in small, polished opera productions. For her solo recording launch she’s chosen Purcell theatre songs, with the stripped-back accompaniment of Richard Egarr on harpsichord and William Carter on plucked strings.
Pierce’s voice is delicious: clear, strong, supple, with sparkling top notes and a warm, textured middle and low register. She’s mistress of her words, bending vowels and clipping consonants to maximise rhetoric, whether desperate urgings or whispered promises. Shadowing her, and adding their own ideas, are Egarr and Carter. Under their fingers, even pedestrian continuo figuration can take on brilliant, unexpected forms. To this mix Carter brings the occasional wirestrung instrument, edging his lines with a pungent twang. Egarr and Carter’s duelling in two grounds by Purcell is ravishing.
Pierce doesn’t partake of her fellow-musicians’ daring. Purcell wrote for the Restoration playhouse, where tumult reigned, but Pierce tends to sanitise moments of excess. Dramatically her toughest music is ‘Mad Bess’, a 12-section number depicting a homeless woman driven insane by her beloved’s death. Gnashing dissonances, metric jolts, bizarre melodic juxtapositions – these ruptures don’t seem to reach Pierce, although she does deliver impactful fortissimos. Another strange absence is ornamentation. We get big dollops of decoration from the instrumentalists but not the singer, who sails along, oddly disengaged from their antics. Pierce is a poised and charming artist; we wait for her musical invention to soar free. Berta Joncus PERFORMANCE ★★★
Das Heimweh; Gesange Aus ‘Wilhelm Meister’; Der Hirt auf dem Felsen; Ave Maria, etc Anna Lucia Richter (soprano), Matthias Schorn (clarinet), Gerold Huber (piano)
Pentatone PTC 5186722 (hybrid CD/ SACD) 80:58 mins
Exciting changes may be gradually taking place in the conservative world of 19th-century German song performance, as this outstanding recital may suggest. Anna Lucia Richter is still early in her career, yet demonstrates astonishing versatility, insight and intelligence in this programme of Schubert songs. Gerold ★uber’s extensive experience as an accompanist is revealed as he draws the tenderest sounds from his piano without ever descending into mawkish exaggeration. Both artists know how to stretch time, bearing us expertly us on the ebb and flow of Schubert’s music.
The programme, called Heimweh (homesickness), draws together a thoughtful and moving selection of songs, some extremely wellknown (Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’, for instance) and others rarely heard (the melodrama ‘Abschied von der Erde’ and the extended ballad ‘Viola’). While the overall mood is understandably bleak, Richter and ★uber nevertheless offer considerable variety, especially of colour. The three songs of the child Mignon, from Goethe’s Faust, are rendered with a transparently white sound. The gravedigger’s song of homesickness ‘Totengräbers ★eimweh’ – almost inevitably sung by a man nowadays – shows impressive heft and depth in the lower reaches of both the voice and piano. Richter renders the sinister necrophiliac ballad ‘Der Zwerg’ with a nasal, eerie bite in her sound that is unnerving and thrilling. I particularly loved the tasteful ornaments in ‘An den Mond’, which are historically justified and wonderfully appropriate, especially in strophic songs – we could do with more of this. I’m looking forward to their next release. Natasha Loges PERFORMANCE ★★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★★
Missa Gloria tibi trinitas
Contrapunctus; Choir of The Queen’s College, Oxford/owen Rees
Signum Classics SIGCD 570 76:18 mins This disc weighs the different sides of Tudor composer John Taverner, from the towering, complex and often virtuosic Gloria tibi trinitas Mass to the terse and solemn setting of the Ave Maria – performed here as Cardinal Wolsey prescribed, with the chiming of a church bell. Both works were possibly written for the collegiate foundation Wolsey created: Cardinal College, Oxford (now Christ Church), where Taverner was master of the choristers. To paint the composer’s two faces, scholardirector Owen Rees brings together both of his crack ensembles: the vocal consort Contrapuntus and the Choir of The Queen’s College, Oxford. The 40-strong collective recreates the lavish sound that Taverner himself might have preferred for special feast days. Contrasting the solo voices of Contrapuntus with the full-bodied choral sound, Rees sculpts the musical lines in low and high relief: delicately etched passages – exquisitely sung by the solo voices of Contrapuntus – give way to the sonorous, often seraphic, sound of the full ensemble. These dramatic contrasts make the Trinity Sunday Mass one of the masterpieces of Tudor polyphony, and also characterise the jubilant Marian antiphon Gaude plurimum, to which Rees brings just the right balance of grace and vigour.
The female voices of Queen’s College choir sound aptly boyish, reflecting the original all-male performing resources, and their timbre is generally radiant (though at more stratospheric moments, the sopranos tend to force their voices, souring the pitch). The recording is faultlessly engineered: lucid and vividly present. Kate Bolton-porciatti PERFORMANCE ★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★★
Homesick heroine: Anna Lucia Richter shines in Schubert