I first heard Alec Roth’s music when I recently reviewed the new
Hyperion disk Romantic Residues (Hyperion CDA67725), which
included two of his works, and was most impressed by his settings
of Vikram Seth. This disk offers two more settings of Seth – Songs
in Time of War for tenor, with violin, harp and guitar and
Chinese Gardens for tenor and guitar – separated by two
short pieces for solo guitar.
twelve songs which make up the Songs in Time of War are
settings of Vikram Seth’s verse after the Chinese poet Du Fu
(712–770). As befits such delicate and fragrant poetry the settings
are sparse, the music never getting in the way of the words,
but amplifying and embellishing them with a delicate wash of
sound. The vocal line is purely lyrical – as all vocal music
should be – and there’s nothing flashy or virtuosic about the
writing – the settings are syllabic so the words aren’t lost
in melismata – and despite the origin of the text Roth achieves,
from time to time, a very English sound in his music. The accompaniment
for harp, violin and guitar is, in general, restrained and Roth
achieves a marvelous variety of sound which is always attractive
to the ear and never monochromatic. This work is a major addition
to the English song repertoire, perhaps it might just be one
of the most significant cycles written since the death of Britten.
One hopes that the unusual scoring doesn’t make it too difficult
(original) texts for the cycle Chinese Gardens were inspired
by visits to four of the Ming Dynasty gardens in the Chinese
city of Suzhou. Seth’s language, as you would expect, is richer
than the early Chinese poetry of Du Fu and Roth’s settings are
fuller and more florid, the vocal line being full of ecstatic
melismata. Strangely, this cycle seems larger than the Songs
in Time of War perhaps because the songs are bigger in scope.
The accompaniment, this time for guitar alone, supports and
compliments the vocal line. These songs are true gems.
must be difficult for any English composer working today to
shrug off the mantle of the vocal works of both Britten and
Tippett and write truly original vocal music but Roth has succeeded
admirably. This is music of strength, originality and sensuality.
Roth’s is a true original English voice.
the two cycles come two miniatures for solo guitar. Despite
their Spanish names there’s nothing Spanish about them, musically
speaking. They prove a delightful foil to the songs.
Mark Padmore is a fine singer, who is in full control of his voice.
His is a very flexible tenor, with a full bodied middle range
and lots of variety at the top. He is a joy to listen to, with
his intelligent use of vibrato and variety of tone colour. He
could almost be the heir to the great Ian Partridge, who has
recently announced his retired from the concert stage. He is
more than ably accompanied by Honoré, Nicholls and Szymanski.
The recording is fine, the notes full and helpful – with complete texts
– and this issue must not be missed by anyone interested in
English song, anyone interested in current trends in contemporary
composition and anyone I have forgotten to mention. Put simply,
this disk is a sheer joy.