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My name is Barbara
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953) Seven Elizabethan Lyrics, Op. 12 (1908) [12’35"]
Charles T GRIFFES (1864-1920) Three poems of Fiona Macleod, Op. 11 (1918) [9’59"]
Aaron COPLAND Four early songs (1918-22) [9’40"]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) On this Island, Op. 11 (1938) – five songs for high voice and piano [13’30"]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990) I hate music! (1943) – five kids songs for soprano and piano [6’45"]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981) Four songs, Op. 13 (1940) [8’33"]
Barbara Bonney (soprano); Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. St. Martin’s, East Woodhay, Hampshire, England. 21-24 February, 2005. DDD
ONYX CLASSICS ONYX 4003 [62’04"]

 

This is a very thoughtfully constructed twentieth century Anglo-American collection that showcases Barbara Bonney’s affinities. It takes Quilter’s 1908 settings, adds the Macleod settings of the short-lived Griffes and also takes the very early Copland songs. To these we can add the Britten (hardly novel fare) and the evergreen Bernstein, one of which songs donates itself to the album title, and finish with the Four Songs of Barber.

That said I was left underwhelmed. I admire Bonney and this new venture on the Onyx Classics label is to be welcomed but there are some worrying signs. I could have done without the half catch in the voice in the Quilter Weep you no more as it doesn’t do to over-burden these songs with too much expressive impedimenta. Of more concern was a certain thinness in the voice itself in Fair House of Joy and an impression generally that she wasn’t really engaging with the texts, preferring to allow a generalised tone to do the work. I’m afraid that her diction lets her down throughout – try My Life’s Delight and if you can make out anything you’re doing better than I am.

I enjoyed the Griffes but then he’s a wonderfully warm composer. The bardic drama with the deep pitch of the piano’s bass is admirable in The Lament of Ian the Proud and if there are some uncomfortable moments for Bonney she manages to convey the spirit well, as well as Martineau evokes time, place and extracts colour. The second setting is more explicitly impressionist but the third and last is bigger. The rose of the night sees some splendid things from this pair – her half voice is excellent, the diminuendo is technically achieved with great control – but against that one feels she forces through her tone occasionally. The Britten settings unfortunately tend to get bogged down and one doesn’t get the feeling that Bonney is ever really inside them

The Copland songs were written at the same time as the Griffes, give or take a couple of years. Slow, reflective, also impressionistically tinged I came away with the greatest regard for the final one, which embodies a lonely abandonment. Her best and most characteristic singing however is reserved for Barber and for Bernstein. The Four Songs of 1940 are impressively accomplished. She catches something of the determined gravity of the first, A Nun takes the veil and brings out the romantic traceries of Sure on this shining nigh. She responds with quick wit to the Bernstein, especially so in the case of A big Indian and a little Indian, which is infectiously amusing.

There are decent notes, the poems are printed in full, and the recording is warm. But it’s a hit and miss kind of disc.

Jonathan Woolf

John Quinn was more enamoured of this disc - review

 

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