AVAILABILITY Available in the UK from Seaford
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or if in difficulty you can contact the ever-helpful Tall Poppies
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Glebe NSW 2037
This is a consistently enjoyable and rewarding
disc. It furnishes further evidence of Peggy Glanville-Hicks’s
intensely reflective and evocative response to text, whether poetic
or, in the case of the Paul Bowles inspired piece, prose. A student
variously and successively of Vaughan Williams, Wellesz and Nadia
Boulanger she spent much of her life outside her native Australia,
only returning full-time in 1975. It’s not at all surprising,
given the prominence of operatic work in her creative life, that
she should be so accomplished a setter for voice and piano but
it’s true that the songs have been rather overlooked. No longer.
Profiles from China, five tiny settings
dating from 1945, are aptly delicate in their narrative simplicity.
The jewel is the third, The Dream, the spaced chordal strength
of which mirrors the philosophic compactness of the poem by Eunice
Tietjens, who died the year before Glanville-Hicks began work
on her poems. The Three Songs are early works dating from 1931
of two settings of A.E. and one of Fletcher’s Sleep. Frolic
sounds a little like reharmonised and modernised Butterworth.
Sleep embodies a gentle nobility, a beguiled ecstasy that
adduces an appropriately quasi-Elizabethan cadence: not in the
manner of W Denis-Browne say, of an earlier generation, but more
glintingly and very attractively. Mimic Heaven from the
Housman settings taxes even the supremely idiomatic Gerald English
up high but how beautifully he explores Glanville-Hicks’s dropping
motif in He Would Not Say and how heart-rending is his
delivery – how poignant the balance of melancholy and aloofness.
This set positively glitters with drama and loss, the dramatic
piano arpeggio in Stars included, as it does in more confident
face – Homespun Collars the last of the five is confident,
rhythmically a-quiver. English and pianist Roland Peelman are
jaunty and swaggering.
The Harp Sonata makes a welcome appearance at
this point played by Marshall McGuire. In three short movements
this delightfully lyric piece is suffused in affection and heart-warming
melody but also a sure awareness of the harp’s potential. Its
technical grounding is not in doubt. Thirteen Ways of Looking
at A Blackbird sets Wallace Stevens’ poems with the
utmost concision and concentration, employing declamation from
the singer – in When the Blackbird Flew Out Of Sight –
as well as suggestive underscoring of beautifully crafted refinement.
At the sight of blackbirds flying is one of the
most beautifully taut settings of a poem I’ve ever heard. There’s
also abandon and verve - He rode over Connecticut – and
plenty of contrastive material. The disc ends with Letters
from Morocco, the settings of Bowles’ letters and accompanied
by orchestra. She sets the polysyllabic words with great deftness
– it can’t be easy to set the prose line where life is prohibited
it becomes a delectable forbidden fruit, for example.
Bowles and Glanville-Hicks were long-standing friends and wrote
regularly to each other. The settings are evocative, colouristic,
hinting at strange lands, burnished and supportive of the text.
English essays the occasional melismatic cry with unerring skill
and the depth and richness and the sheer subtlety of the settings
are made only more palpable through repeated listening.
The cover painting is of the composer in a red
cloak with a barn owl sitting on her outstretched and gloved hand.
Her just visibly jutting shirtsleeve or jumper shares the owl’s
brown and whiteness and hints, perhaps, at her cool, avian otherness.
Or whatever. Her music meanwhile has always filled me with the
greatest admiration and this disc is recommended with undimmed
see also review
by Rob Barnett