Michael Tippett, The Heart's Assurance;
Francis Routh, A Woman Young and Old;
David Matthews, The Golden Kingdom;
John Rushby-Smith, Love's Legacy.
Margaret Field (soprano) Andrew
Redcliffe Recordings RR009
I wish I could recommend this disc.
There is no doubt that Margaret Field and Andrew Ball are excellent performers
but, apart from the song cycle by Francis Routh, the music is very disappointing.
The Tippett, Matthews and Rushby-Smith all suffer from tonal insecurity and
piano parts which are independent of the vocal line so that they do not belong.
Often the piano parts are so busy and convoluted that they confuse the ear
and detract from the text and the vocal line.
In the Tippett a clearer voice and recording balance would have helped. But
the virtuosic piano part makes the first song a combat ... the accompaniment
is too busy and intrusive. Balance is a problem in the third song
Compassion but it later improves into a convincing performance. The
Dancer suffers from an interfering piano part which is very distracting.
I hasten to add that this is the composer's fault. The final song Remember
Your Lovers is both curious and confusing.
No such problems with the Francis Routh where the vocal line and piano part
do belong. They do integrate. The unfussy vocal lines bring out Yeats' text
with clarity. Some of the piano writing in the first song Father and
Child reappears at the end of the final song From the 'Antigone'
which is so effectively simple and may suggest a blues. There is a wonderful
coherence in both parts and the vocal lines are memorable. Before the
World Was Made captures a mood that is perfect to the text. There is
shape in these songs ... a clear direction and purpose. One can sense the
reserved and subtle humour in For Anne Gregory. This is an excellent
song cycle and, by far, the best work on the disc.
The tonal insecurity and complications of the Tippett are also found in David
Matthews' work. To have eight songs out of nine which are very slow needs
a Herculean attention span. Some are very short ... one lasts half a minute.
The piano is very intrusive and so one does not hear the text. There are
other serious weaknesses such as a Britten-like vocal line which is at odds
with the words and a ghastly Schubertian piano vamping as in the song Spell
of Sheep. If you know Schubert's Who is Sylvia? you will know
what I mean. Blake's Lament of Ahania seems to be a slow boogie-woogie
and quite at odds with the text. The portrayal of Kathleen Raine's butterflies
does not work. Yet the song The Purple Butterfly in Gerard Victory's
magnificent song cycle Sailing to Byzantium shows us how it can be
The final song in The Golden Kingdom raises other questions. It begins
and ends with a piano solo allegro moderato and the vocal part is
marked slowly and gently. I must confess that bars 39 - 45 are quite beautiful,
sensitive but mannered. John Rushby-Smith had originally intended to call
his work Four Shelley Songs. I found his work a curious mixture of
styles and, again, some of the piano writing is very uncomfortable. The vocal
line is often at odds with the piano part and the ear does not know where
to go. Three out of four songs are slow and uneventful. The final
Lament is clearly the best and, after the Routh, his work is the most