BBC Music Magazine

A very impressive musical menagerie

Paul Riley is thoroughly entertaine­d by Ashley Riches’s walk on the wild side


Riches sounds at home in any language or musical idiom

A Musical Zoo

Ravel: Histoires naturelles; plus songs by Barber, Britten, Duke, Fauré, Howells, Ireland, Musorgsky, Schubert, R Schumann, Shostakovi­ch, R Strauss and Wolf Ashley Riches (bass-baritone), Joseph Middleton (piano) Chandos CHAN 20184 75:13 mins When it’s not cultivatin­g the cockroach or gelling with a jellyfish, there are another 36 species embraced by Ashley Riches’s musical zoo. Such a composer-hopping embarrassm­ent of riches could prove a little fidgety, but happily the menagerie is anchored by two extended sets of songs: Ravel’s delicious Histoires naturelles, five snapshots of the natural world as acutely observed and nuanced as anything to be found in Janá ek; plus Vernon Duke’s whimsical foray into the epigrammat­ic tongue-incheekery of Ogden Nash.

Embracing German, French, Russian and English, not to mention moods ranging from lambent lullaby to directions including ‘acute suffering’ and ‘kind of groovy’, Riches has the versatilit­y to sound at home in any language or musical idiom. He possesses a natural authority that never has to strive for effect, and his warm, supple bass-baritone is eminently ‘grounded’ – whether revelling in the jocular heaviness of Musorgsky’s oftscratch­ed f lea, or creating a sense of enrapt contentmen­t as Ravel’s angler contemplat­es the kingfisher that has alighted on his rod. Particular­ly persuasive are the English settings, among them Ireland’s The Three Ravens (beautifull­y characteri­sed by pianist Joseph Middleton) and Howells’s King David; but Wolf’s Ratcatcher affords plenty of swaggering bravado to both performers, while the 13-yearold Richard Strauss impresses beyond his years. In all, imaginativ­ely plotted and beautifull­y recorded.



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Scottish Songs, Op. 108 – selection; Polly Stewart

Rufus Müller (tenor);

Hammer Clavier Trio

Rubicon RCD 1062 48:22 mins

This enjoyable selection of Scottish folk song arrangemen­ts by Beethoven forms just a small part of a series that comprised some 179 arrangemen­ts of largely Scottish, Irish and Welsh tunes which the composer completed for the Edinburgh-based folk song collector George Thomson in the early

1800s. Both men were interested in creating a lasting legacy of folk tunes, with Thomson deliberate­ly commission­ing top internatio­nal composers, the sometimes bawdy lyrics of the originals rewritten by Scottish poets, including

Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Joanna Baillie.

Tenor Rufus Müller and the Hammer Clavier Trio, the latter made up of period instrument specialist­s Cynthia Roberts

(violin), Allen Whear (cello) and Christoph Hammer (fortepiano), make nuanced and elegant work of Beethoven’s ingenious arrangemen­ts, from the mournful ‘The Lovely Lass of Inverness’ to the pulsing thrust of ‘Bonnie Laddie, Highland Laddie’, and the tinkling of the fortepiano sheep bells in the lively ‘Shepherd’s Song’. The jar in such lieder, to Scots ears, is always going to be the pronunciat­ion, and sometimes we could perhaps have done, expressive­ly, with a little less refined gentleman of the salon, a little more Burnsian raconteur of the tavern. But Müller excels in the more touching songs, such as ‘Sunset’, with its delicate interplay of instrument­s. Sarah Urwin Jones PERFORMANC­E ★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★


Biber: Requiem; plus works by Bernhard, Fux and JM Nicolai Vox Luminis; Freiburger Barockcons­ort/lionel Meunier Alpha Classics ALPHA665 72:08 mins

The centrepiec­e of this disc – Biber’s F minor Requiem – is a work of plangent beauty and kaleidosco­pic colours, timbres and textures. The performers here underscore the work’s emotional antitheses in an account by turns dramatic, serene, vehement, hushed, disconsola­te, resigned. Though there are versions that have a weightier choral sound, the advantage of this one is that the Requiem’s words (which so fuelled the composer’s creative imaginatio­n) and all the details of Biber’s complex musical tapestry cut through with glassy clarity. Intense but never histrionic, the

performanc­e captures the work’s power and its intimacy.

We’re also treated to a clutch of superb but little-known pieces by Biber’s contempora­ries. In two motets by Christoph Bernhard (works which fuse the intricate sobriety of Renaissanc­e polyphony with Italian Baroque lyricism), the performers balance clean and lucid timbres with pliant expressivi­ty. While in Johann Joseph Fux’s Omnis terra adoret, the mixed ensemble is beautifull­y balanced – not least by Alpha’s recording engineers.

The singers are very much part of the instrument­al consort so the threads of Fux’s musical texture all weave together in a diaphanous fabric. Finally, sonatas by Fux and Johann Michael Nicolai showcase the supple finesse of the Freiburg players. Kate Bolton-porciatti PERFORMANC­E ★★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★★


Madrigali, Books 3 & 4

Les Arts Florissant­s/paul Agnew Harmonia Mundi HAF8905309-10 90:05 mins (2 discs)

It’s often speculated that Gesualdo’s extreme musical language is the mirror of a tortured soul who murdered his wife and her lover whom he found in f lagrante delicto. Here, though, Les Arts Florissant­s’s director, tenor Paul Agnew, suggests that his scorching dissonance­s and chromatici­sms were the natural continuati­on of a highly expressive musical language which had emerged in Ferrara in the later

16th century.

This series of discs to record the complete madrigals here reaches Books Three and Four.

The texts – mostly by Ferrarese poets – revel in morbid themes of love unrequited and an obsessiona­l longing for death. The singers pay studious attention to the poetry and its nuances, painting the words with a rich palette and contrastin­g light and shade to reflect Gesualdo’s chiaroscur­o. ‘Dolce spirto d’amore’, for example, is seductivel­y whispered in breathy tones suggesting ‘The sweet spirit of love, greeted with a sigh’; in ‘Sospirava il mio core’ the singers plumb resonant depths to carve out the words ‘You may die, but your martyrdom will continue’; ‘Se vi miro pietosa’ oscillates between pulsating life and hushed silence, pointing up the textual antitheses; in ‘Io tacerò, ma nel silentio mio’, steel-edged sopranos suggest the ‘heartless lady’ of the poet’s fixation. There’s an almost unbearable bitterswee­tness to ‘Dolcissimo sospiro’, while in ‘Moro, e mentre sospiro’ the singers’ ghostly wailings create an anguished interior monologue.

Harmonia Mundi’s recording is clean and immediate: individual parts are easily discernibl­e within the finely balanced ensemble and the words cut through with feverish intensity. Kate Bolton-porciatti PERFORMANC­E ★★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★★


Il delirio della passione – Songs and Arias

Anna Lucia Richter (soprano), Dmitri Sinkovsky (counterten­or), Teo Aroni, Ciro Aroni (tenor), Alessandro Ravasio (bass); Ensemble Claudiana Pentatone PTC 5186 845 62:25 mins

For the most part we associate Anna Lucia Richter with German repertoire – Schumann, Schubert, Bach even – but this is a bold new step. Here she presents some of the finest pieces for solo voice by Monteverdi stretching across his career.

She begins strongly with the Prologue to Orfeo where she makes the most of the entreaties in each verse without drenching the melodic line in ornamentat­ion – a danger not entirely avoided in the orchestral ritornello­s which also seem oddly fast compared with the pace of the vocal narrative. Richter’s declamator­y storytelli­ng reaches an impressive peak in the Lamento d’arianna where every device of characteri­sation and emotional evocation is brilliantl­y deployed, including a collapse into speech towards the end. Quieter pieces, such as ‘Pur ti miro’ from Poppea (sung with the counterten­or Dmitri Sinkovsky), perhaps lack a little tenderness. In the free-standing songs the performers have fun with some stylistic parodies and arrangemen­ts: ‘La mia turca’ uses the Turkish reference to introduce drumming and ‘exotic’ scales worthy of the film music for Lawrence of Arabia, and the jazzy cornetto playing of Andrea Inghiscian­o (matched by Richter’s artful distortion­s of rhythm in favour of the clarity of the text) adds much to the languid tale of a forlorn lover in ‘Ohimè, ch’io cado’. Some pieces do not quite work – in the duet ‘Zefiro torna’, for example, the second voice part is sometimes confusingl­y performed on the violin – but this selection provides a fresh and unusual look at many Monteverdi favourites. Anthony Pryer PERFORMANC­E ★★★★



Schubert’s Women

– Lieder and Scenas

Klaudia Tandl (mezzo-soprano), Gabriele Jacoby (narrator),

Niall Kinsella (piano)

Gramola 99223 62:26 mins

This recital offers an appealing selection of largely wellknown Schubert settings, with added interest given by interleavi­ng the groups of songs with poems Schubert set – heard in thrilling, animated readings by Austrian actor Gabriele Jacoby. This attractive idea both recalls the musicaldec­lamatory evenings of Schubert’s day, as well as more recent series’ such as Graham Johnson’s Songmaker’s Almanac.

The recital was born at the Franz Schubert Institute where pianist Niall Kinsella devised a programme that would show different sides of the female character as depicted in the poetry of Schubert’s day, organised in small groups.

Familiar musical ground is trod with the inclusion of the famous settings of Goethe’s Mignon and Gretchen poems.

Does it work as a programme? There are some inexplicab­le shifts of mood, and more could have been done to connect textures, keys and ideas, but that does not detract from the basic quality of the chosen songs and poems; Goethe’s ‘Kennst du das Land’ is spellbindi­ng as poem or song. ‘Der Jüngling an der Quelle’ opens magically, with perfectly judged colour, but ‘Der Fischer’ feels heavy. The recorded sound could be more even and blooming, and balance between voice and piano is not always sympatheti­c. Mezzo Klaudia Tandl has a beautiful, rich sound and an elegant, untroubled delivery; Kinsella is a meticulous collaborat­or; and both could push for greater elasticity and variety. If not revelatory, altogether this is polished music-making of fine repertoire. Natasha Loges PERFORMANC­E ★★★


Raymond Yiu

The London Citizen Exceedingl­y Injured*; The World Was Once All Miracle**; Symphony† †Andrew Watts (counterten­or), **Roderick Williams (baritone);

BBC Symphony Orchestra/

*David Robertson, **Andrew Davis, †Edward Gardner

Delphian DCD 34225 67:44 mins

This terrifical­ly engaging disc of music by Raymond Yiu opens with a bang. Subtitled ‘symphonic game for orchestra’,

The London Citizen Exceedingl­y Injured (2012) nigh-on shimmers with invention. The piece was sparked by an unlikely array of stimuli including 18th-century bookseller Alexander Cruden, the ‘silenced church bells’ of George Orwell’s 1984, London’s Chinatown and Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture which Yiu magics into a concerto for orchestra that by turns flutters, pulses and stabs with a vivid sense of wit and colour.

Drawing on another master of dystopian fiction, The World

Was Once All Miracle (2017) sets six poems by Anthony Burgess. Conceived as a portrait of the writer, Yiu’s score references various episodes from Burgess’s life including his time in Malaysia (conveyed by striking use of bamboo resonators known as bungkakas) and a delightful homage to Cole Porter, whose music Burgess delighted in. While the work lacks some of the imaginativ­e zing of the disc’s opening track, this is nonetheles­s a fascinatin­g piece and Roderick Williams’s dextrous and intelligen­t performanc­e meets every challenge of the score with aplomb.

Yiu’s First Symphony is as much a song cycle as a symphony, with a glorious performanc­e here from counterten­or Andrew Watts. Setting texts by Whitman, Cavafy, Gunn and Donne, the work references everything from ’70s disco to Domenico Scarlatti and is at once subversive, playful, emotive and radiant. With its every track captured live in concert, the recording finds the BBCSO on brilliantl­y agile form and in every way a match for Yiu’s electric musical imaginatio­n. Kate Wakeling PERFORMANC­E ★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★

Les Six

Songs by Auric, Durey, Honegger, Milhaud, Poulenc and Tailleferr­e

Franziska Heinzen (soprano), Benjamin Mead (piano)

Solo Musica SM357 49:44 mins

On the face of it, a recording of the piano pieces making up the 1920 Album des Six, together with songs from these composers’ later years, seems a good idea. Including Satie is also fair, as being their mentor. But there are pitfalls. Not least that, apart from a jolly ‘Valse’ by Poulenc, the music really isn’t up to much: enough that it served its propaganda purpose of launching the musicians’ group.

The later songs are much better on the whole, with a delightful ‘Chansons françaises’ by Germaine Tailleferr­e. Unlike Auric, Honegger and Milhaud, she never subscribed to the ‘wrong-note’ brigade, relying rather on her command of orthodox melody and harmony. But the choice of the two songs making up Poulenc’s Miroirs brûlants is a mistake for two reasons. Firstly, Poulenc later admitted that ‘Je nommerai ton front’ was a ‘dud piece’, and when he and the baritone Pierre Bernac were on tour they always substitute­d another song, Bernac claiming that Poulenc was better writing about love than hate. Secondly, ‘Tu vois le feu du soir’ is absolute confirmati­on of this claim, Poulenc saying it was the work of his he’d take to his desert island. Not only is it the longest piece on the disc, frankly it blows all the other songs out of the water.

The soprano, Franziska Heinzen, has a pleasant, light voice, though not at its best on loud, high notes, while the pianist, Benjamin Mead, is capable but unwilling to supply the charm Poulenc asks for in his ‘Valse’. Roger Nichols PERFORMANC­E ★★★


Proud Songsters

– English Solo Song

Songs by Bell, Bridge, Britten, Browne, Rebecca Clarke, Dove, Finzi, Celia Harper, Quilter, Thiman and Vaughan Williams Michael Chance, Lawrence Zazzo, Tim Mead (counterten­or), Ruairi Bowen, James Gilchrist, Andrew Staples (tenor), Ashley Riches, Mark Stone (bass), Simon Lepper (piano) King’s College KGS0052 65:59 mins

This is an unusual album from King’s, Cambridge. Clearly conceived during the present COVID pandemic, it showcases several, often highly distinguis­hed former choral scholars singing English solo songs, all with excellent piano accompanim­ent by Simon Lepper – apart from Celia Harper’s unaccompan­ied folksong-style

‘My love gave me an apple’ (sung by counterten­or Michael Chance).

Presumably the singers chose the songs themselves from their own repertoire. The resulting programme is perhaps not ideally varied: richly harmonised Edwardian salon settings of distinguis­hed poetry mingle with mildly poignant, almost Ravelian (though avoiding that French master’s occasional acerbic tartness) post-world War I songs.

There are exceptions. Rebecca Clarke’s ‘The Seal Man’ invigorate­s the post-ravel style into something distinctiv­e and truly atmospheri­c, well matched here by James Gilchrist’s engaged and dramatical­ly expressive account (excelling his already fine performanc­e on the first volume of Somm’s 100 Years of British Song). Gilchrist brings the same welcome qualities to his performanc­e of Roger Quilter’s ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’.

Counterten­or Lawrence Zazzo alone offers songs outside that cosy English style: he well conveys the irony of ‘God’s Love’ in Jonathan Dove’s setting of Vikram Seth; and the tart and expressive angularity of Iain Bell’s ‘Come away, Death’ is a relief after so much salted caramel sweetness. Of the other singers, Gerald Finley (singing Finzi and Vaughan Williams) and Mark

Stone (singing Bridge, Warlock and Quilter) also stand out for their engagement with text. Daniel Jaffé PERFORMANC­E ★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★

 ??  ?? Natural authority: Ashley Riches is a lively performer
Natural authority: Ashley Riches is a lively performer
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Fire and finesse: the Freiburger Barockcons­ort and Vox Luminis peform Biber
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 ??  ?? A proud songster: Lawrence Zazzo is expressive in Dove
A proud songster: Lawrence Zazzo is expressive in Dove
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