A brilliantly programmed
disc from Chandos brings together works
for tenor and guitar by Britten and
Maw, framed by songs from Dowland’s
Bookes of Songs and Ayres.
The opening song, Come
Heavy Sleep, atmospherically performed
by Philip Langridge and Stephen Marchionda,
is the basis for the second work on
the disc – Britten’s Nocturnal,
a work for solo guitar originally written
for Julian Bream in 1963. It is particularly
fitting that Marchionda is the artist
on this disc as Bream’s pupil, and he
gives a sympathetic and effective performance
of this brilliant work. Two Nicholas
Maw premières follow – Six
Interiors, and Music of Memory.
Six Interiors sets some of Hardy’s
exceptional poems (including, to my
utmost delight, an old favourite – I
look into my mirror, an absolute
masterpiece of human perception and
understanding). Maw sets powerful words
to powerful music, and Langridge could
have no rival in being exactly the right
artist to perform these. His voice is
not a pretty voice - it is a dramatic
voice. Flexible and atmospheric, his
slightly harsh, dark and almost ghostly
tone is perfect for these songs, and
he and Marchionda give an amazing performance.
Just listen to how, in the song At
Tea, Langridge so adroitly characterises
the complicated situation and complex
reactions of the characters with consummate
stresses, emphases and pauses. One can
hear his voice smiling on the word "smiling"
and knows that this is not a smile of
genuine happiness; one can hear the
polite compliments of the visiting lady
simpering, and one can hear the longing
in the word "yearningly" in
some excellent word-painting. My only
reservation about these songs is that,
whilst fairly Brittenesque, they do
not seem to make as much musical sense
or have the direction that Britten’s
Music of Memory
is another good work, and well performed.
It was composed in 1989 and is, as the
composer describes it, "a somewhat
freely organised set of variations".
Certainly fantasia-like, it contains
some passages of great beauty, many
of which hark back to Dowland and his
contemporaries, while themes by Mendelssohn
drift in and out of the piece, never
clearly laid out.
In Britten’s Songs
from the Chinese, Langridge gets
the mixture of seriousness and sardonic
irony excellently. The disc concludes
aptly with Dowland’s Weepe you no
more, sad fountains.
I love the symmetry
of this disc, and how beautifully it
has been programmed, with three composers
who have all influenced each other,
and works that are inter-linked both
musically and in terms of the major
themes of age, time, death, and the
sorrows of world. An outstanding disc!