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William SHAKESPEARE (1539/40-1623)

Sonnets 18 and 128 extracts: So long as men can breathe [0:54]*.
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)

Oedipus: Music for a while, Z583/2 (1692) [3:41]. If music be the food of love (First setting, Version B), Z379A (1691 or 1692) [1:31]. Tyrannic Love: Ah! How sweet it is to love, Z613/2 (1695) [1:37].

Sonnet 128 extract: Do I envy those jacks, that nimble leap [0:28]*.

The Fairy Queen: Thrice happy lovers, Z629/39b (1692) [2:52].

Sonnet 18 extract: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? [0:43]*.

Pausanias: Sweeter than roses, Z585/1 (1695) [4:14].
George CRUMB (1929- )

Three Early Songs: Night (1947) [2:58].

Sonnet 65 extract: They live unwoo’d, and unrespected fade [0:17]*.

Don Quixote Part 3: From rosy bow’rs, Z578/9 (1695) [7:11].

Sonnet 65 extract: And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth [0:48]*.

Not all my torments can your pity move, Z400 (1693) [3:01].
George CRUMB

Three Early Songs: Let it be forgotten (1947) [3:17].

Celebrate this festival: Crown the altar, Z321/7 (1693) [3:19].

Sonnet 71 extract: No longer mourn for me when I am dead [0:44]*.
George CRUMB

Three Early Songs: Wind elegy (1947) [2:19].
[Sound montage]

****** [0:46].

Dido and Aeneas: Thy hand, Belinda … When I am laid in earth, Z626/37-38 (?1689) [4:21].
George CRUMB

Apparition (1979) [24:59].
*Sebastian Carewe (speaker), Christine Schafer (soprano), Eric Schneider (piano)
rec. Teldex Studio Berlin, 19-21 August 2004. DDD
Booklet includes spoken and sung texts and German translations.
ONYX 4021 [70:32]

Nowadays Purcell’s songs are usually heard on CD with their authentic instrumental backing of harpsichord, bass viol and perhaps lute. Having piano backing instead takes them into the mainstream repertoire. Music for a while (tr. 2) is first presented by Eric Schneider in its bare ground bass form, so when Christine Schafer’s voice enters everything becomes smoother, brighter, fresher. She sings of music beguiling cares and only she demonstrates this. Schneider does fill out his skeletal accompaniment more as the song progresses and this has a welcome improvisatory feel. The approach is pacy and something of the song’s aura of mystery is thereby lost. But Schafer does convey its allure and in the closing refrain adds ornamentation which seems to mirror the occasional jazzy elements in the accompaniment, the combination making standard baroque technique seem surprisingly modern.

Music’s role in evoking love is now much in evidence. If music be the food of love (tr. 3) is eagerly delivered, love here an irresistible impulse, though inconsistently the first strain is repeated for the first verse but not the second. Ah! How sweet it is to love (tr. 4) is equally exuberant and Schneider’s piano has to be very nifty. This is very physical, high powered and paced love. The opening section of the epithalamium Thrice happy lovers from The Fairy Queen (tr. 6) is sung by Schafer as graphically as I’ve ever heard it. She is regal as Juno, yet with a smiling presence and poise, playful and expressively colouring the melismata, so that on ‘lovers’ (1:27) seems to picture them enjoying themselves and the piano echoes this. The setting really comes to life. But in the second section, ‘Be to one another true’ (1:54), Juno shows a different face, one of temperate concern that the lovers be faithful. Schafer begins this in rather too forthright authoritarian manner before softening later. To make a piano accompaniment comparison, the tenor Martyn Hill with Andrew Ball in the realization by Michael Tippett and Walter Bergmann recorded in 1994 (Hyperion CDA 66749) begins in lighter, jollier fashion. Ball’s piano contribution is more ornate, Hill’s melismata more self conscious, but their second section is more kindly. In Sweeter than roses (tr. 8) Schafer and Schneider do conjure up the mystique surrounding ‘the dear kiss’ before a second section, ‘What magic has victorious love!’ (3:02), all bubbling with vivacity. The soprano Felicity Lott with Graham Johnson in Benjamin Britten’s realization recorded in 1995 (Hyperion CDD 22058) have a more reflective but less immediate opening section, with less climax at ‘the dear kiss’ and less pointed recall of it in a more festive second section.

At this point on this CD enter George Crumb, with Night (tr. 9), the first of his Three Early Songs. It begins with a mercurial, rippling piano accompaniment ostinato, quicker than Purcell’s ground bass but structurally similar. Serenity is evoked by its opposite, brutality in the piano (0:34) to indicate ‘stain’. The moon glides across sleekly before another clamour in the piano from 1:55 and approach to a vocal climax indicating grandeur and vastness, as does the sustained closing ‘night’.

Purcell’s From rosy bowers (tr. 11) is a dramatic scena depicting five stages of madness. For the opening, ‘sullenly mad’, Schafer is contemplative and analytical till the secret is out that the madness is caused by infatuation. The second stage, ‘mirthfully mad’ (2:17) is quicker but not that varied in tone. The third, ‘melancholy mad’ (2:56), is suddenly chillier. The fourth stage, ‘fantastically mad’ (5:11) is harder in resolve and the final one, ‘stark mad’ (6:07) impetuous. But more impressive is Not all my torments (tr. 13), a stand alone song yet equally dramatic, Schafer anticipates her later Dido in her imperious negotiation of the writhing roulades which in turn evince torment, lack of pity, scorn, sorrow and despair. This is magnificently sung.

The second Crumb early song, Let it be forgotten (tr. 14) starts with a gentle piano ostinato matched by a vocal state of laid back serenity you might readily associate with a jazz song. The ostinato becomes agitated for the opening of the second stanza (1:28), the fracture lines showing and Schafer and Schneider climaxing (1:50) at the pained allusion to what is to be forgotten before the calmest ostinato and the voice closing with a finely and comfortingly sustained monotone line. After this, Purcell’s ground bass in Crown the altar (tr. 15) seems altogether bouncier while Schafer has something of the same sunny affability, yet also a searing vision of ‘the bright seraphic throng’ in this version as published in ‘Orpheus Britannicus’, a fourth higher than the original Birthday Ode setting and therefore rising to high G.

The final Crumb early song, Wind elegy (tr. 17) begins with a poignantly flowing piano ostinato and vocal line, explained by the words. Nature carries on after the planter has gone. Thereafter there’s ache as well as activity but it too comes to rest. In the recitative before Dido’s lament (tr. 19) the welcoming of Death is vivid, linking with that later in Crumb’s Apparition. Schneider’s dark grained descending ground bass is sepulchral yet also of ineluctable flow. Schafer’s lament is at first simple and intimate but reaches a fittingly imperious cry at the top G climax on the third ‘Remember me’ (2:38) before softening in graceful acceptance at its repetition.

Apparition is Crumb’s selection from Walt Whitman’s When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d whose focus is relating to death. Crumb mixes songs and vocalises and uses wordless melismata within songs. The piano is amplified by a microphone over the bass strings, creating an unusually dense texture. The pianist is often required to play the strings, for instance with a glissando at the very beginning and pizzicato in the song Dark mother (tr. 23 0:55). Vividly recorded in an attractively slightly glowing acoustic, this Apparition begins with an earthy piano sound and voice of appreciable immediacy. The effect is more graphic, dramatic and involved than the greater purity and objectivity of the 1982 recording by Jan DeGaetani and Gilbert Kalish (Bridge BCD 9006) for whom the work was written. The climax of the opening song, The night in silence under many a star (tr. 20), which emphasises the vastness of death is rendered more graphic by Schafer’s slight vibrato. But the melismata on ‘a’ that follow every line of the poem are more impersonal than DeGaetani’s relaxed lightness of articulation. This Onyx recording’s slower overall timing, 24:59 in comparison with 22:45, partly reflects a greater deliberation.

Schafer’s Vocalise 1, Summer sounds is animated. The second song, When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d (tr. 22) is a sunny evocation on those words which soon pales with portamento effects on ‘mourn’, delicately realized by Schafer. The third song, Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet (tr. 23) is a prayer of adoration to Death presented by Schafer as a seductive invocation with a creepily diaphanous quality to the softest of whispers for ‘with soft feet’ though the soft climactic top A isn’t as light as DeGaetani’s. Vocalise 2: Invocation is violent and stormy in full measure from Schafer and Schneider, if not quite as maniacal at the close as DeGaetani and Kalish. The fourth song, Approach strong deliveress (tr. 25) is decked out as a bold march, Schafer vibrantly rising to top D on ‘joyously’ where DeGaetani sings the alternative D an octave lower. Schafer’s Vocalise 3, Death Carol (Song of the nightbird) seems a little too scrupulously articulate for the marking desolato, quasi lontano. The fifth song, Come lovely and soothing death (tr. 27) finds Schafer presenting these words eagerly but not to quite as languid or mesmeric effect as DeGaetani who also finds a more loving appreciation in the ‘mm’ refrain. Among the many special effects called for from the piano in this work, all deftly accomplished by Schneider, the knocking sounds here (0:31) are obtained by striking the beams with the knuckles. The final song (tr. 28) is The night in silence once more with only small changes, but Schafer’s voice now has more sense of welcoming Death in it.

This is a strikingly original and innovative CD. Purcell and Crumb, equally accessible, make a stimulating mix in a structure explained in the booklet but Schafer’s selection of connecting Shakespeare, as noted in the heading, didn’t work for me. Snippets don’t allow you thinking time. Better read the full sonnets in the booklet because the snippets are adulterated by recording spectrum tricks, double tracking of voice, electronic tones and some instrumental effects from Apparition taken out of context. But then you realize how carefully applied Crumb’s effects are.

Michael Greenhalgh


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