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