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Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)
Boyhood's End: Allegro non troppo, Andante, Allegro molto, Allegro piacevole
Gerald FINZI

A Young Man's Exhortation Op. 14: A Young Man's Exhortation, Ditty, Budmouth Dears, Her Temple, The Comet at Yell'ham, Shortening Days, The Sigh, Former Beauties, Transformations, The Dance Continued.
Benjamin BRITTEN

Who are these children? Op. 84: A Riddle, A Laddie's Song, Nightmare, Black day, Bedtime, Slaughter, A riddle, The Larky Lad, Who are these children ?, Supper, The Children, The Auld Ark.
Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente: Menschenbeifall, Die Heimat, Sokrates und Alcibades, Die Jugend, Hälfte des Lebens, Die Linien des Lebens
Um Mitternacht

Mark Padmore (tenor) Roger Vignoles (piano)
Recorded East Finchley, 11-13 February 2004. DDD
HYPERION CDA67459 [78:11]

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Tippett wrote Boyhood's End for Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten who recorded it in 1953. It is a meditation on a work of prose, capturing the nuances of speech and transforming them into inventive song. I sometimes wonder, however, if it was not some kind of subtle cruel joke, for the song is fiendishly difficult to play and sing. Pears's rendition is so excruciating painful that it has to be heard to be believed. (It was reissued by EMI in 2003). Britten copes manfully, but Pears' technique is stretched past the limit. In 1994 the cycle was recorded by Martyn Hill, who avoided the more histrionic excesses, making a reasonable if unexceptional reading. Padmore's voice is easily more elegant than Hill's or Pears's for that matter, so this ought to be the recording of choice. However, Padmore, seems to have taken Pears as a model. As a result he falls into the same traps. All the "English tenor" mispronunciations are here "morneeeng" for "morning" and "flah" for "flower". Fortunately Padmore has the technical nous to avoid being strangled as Pears was on the elaborations of the word "dance" at the end of the first song. His artistry makes the cycle. There are some utterly beautiful moments such as the long, sensuous curving lines like "to lie on my back on the rust brown grass in January". And the way Padmore emphasises the lovely scoring of the line "aglitter with illusory water" gave me goosebumps. The purity of Padmore's voice constantly reminded me of Ian Bostridge, minus Bostridge's trademark sense of wonder. This, I feel is Padmore's weakness. With his background in baroque he has flawless vocal technique, but his ability to go beyond and plumb intensities of inner meaning is undeveloped. The text, by William Henry Hudson describes the wonders of nature with a sense of surreal contemplation. This is true Bostridge territory, for no one capture a sense of awestruck intensity as Bostridge can. Both Bostridge and Padmore have in their repertoire Henze's Arabian Songs, but there's no question that Bostridge brings out far greater resonances. Boyhood's End is a remarkable piece of music with hidden levels for a singer to bring out. I have heard a quite different, but convincing version by James Gilchrist. However, there is no competition on recording for Padmore's version, which really is very good. It is such a beautiful cycle that it will become an essential in any collection of modern song.

Far less of a virtuoso challenge are the Finzi songs. These continue the theme of transient happiness, last fleeting moments of youth and innocence. Again, Padmore sings exquisitely, better than any earlier recording. However, again, he produces a glistening, shimmering surface. Again, however this is natural Bostridge territory. I have heard Bostridge sing these with the same transparency, but he was able to access deeper, darker ironies with his more thoughtful interpretation. Unfortunately the same applies with the Britten works that follow. Bostridge is a particularly sensitive and eloquent Britten interpreter and has performed these songs on many occasions. Padmore again sounds uncannily like Bostridge manqué. He even manages to maul the German language in the Sechs Hölderlin Lieder, as Bostridge did early in his career, but without the sense of original quirkiness to redeem it.

Hyperion will do very well with this CD, because it contains gems of repertoire too rarely heard. And indeed, it is lambently performed, if lacking in character. EMI lost out on a marketing coup by not recording Bostridge first.

Anne Ozorio

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