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Romantic Residues

Alec ROTH (b. 1948)
From California (1991) [5:38]; Romantic Residues (2003) [22:21]

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913–1976)
Folksong Arrangements (1976) [12:07]

Howard SKEMPTON (b. 1947)
Three Songs for Jennie (1905) [4:09]

Gabriel FAURÉ (1845–1924)
Morceau de concert (1896) [3:10]

Maurice RAVEL (1875–1937) arranged for voice and harp by Carlos SALZEDO (1885 – 1961)
Cinq m
élodies populaires grècques (1904 – arr 1930) [8:24]

André CAPLET (1878–1925)
Deux sonnets (1925) [3:52]

Camille SAINT–SAËNS (1833–1921)
Une flûte invisible (1885) [2:07]

Marcel TOURIER (1879 – 1951)
La lettre du jardinier (1806) [4:01]

James Gilchrist (tenor); Jaime Martin (flute); Alison Nicholls (harp)

rec. 20–22 November 2007, St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, Berkshire, London. DDD
HYPERION CDA67725 [66:12] 


Experience Classicsonline

This is a very interesting programme, varied and colourful, mixing the known with the less well known. Until I played this disk Alec Roth had only been a name to me. Now I have had the pleasure of hearing his music. Roth’s settings are all of verse by Vikram Seth, but as I do not know Seth’s verse I have no idea if these poems are typical of his work. What I can tell you is that they are very lyrical and welcome musical setting. Roth has, very sensibly, set the words without embellishment, allowing them to speak for themselves with the emotion heightened by simple, but urgent, accompaniment. The third song of Romantic Residues – a cycle of nine songs – for instance, starts with an harp part of haiku-like sparseness which grows into a joyous dance with the singer whistling – what a magnificent stroke this is – then delicate recitative. Many composers have problems setting contemporary verse but Roth isn’t worried by the task he has set himself. Setting lines such as:

After a long and wretched flight
That stretched from daylight into night,
Where babies wept and tempers shattered
And the place lurched and whisky splattered
Over my plastic food, I came
To claim my bags from Baggage Claim.

to music of such passion, and humour in the final line, is the hallmark of this work. The only recent song cycle I can think of which is as lyrical and intense as this is Jonathan Dove’s All You Who Sleep Tonight – which also draws on poems from the same collection as this work. The cycle and single song are real finds and they receive committed performances – Romantic Residues was written for these performers so there can be no doubt as to the advocacy of the performance. 

The four Britten folksong settings – two originally written with harp accompaniment, the others arranged from piano accompaniment – are well known and O Waly Waly works especially well in this new guise. 

Howard Skempton sets three poems with utmost simplicity – simplicity has always been an hallmark of Skempton’s style – and these songs have a clarity and directness all too often missing from contemporary works. The setting of Housman’s From far, from eve and morning is treated without fuss or embellishment and will come as a surprise, but a welcome one, to all who know other settings of this poem. It is always a pleasure to hear Howard Skempton’s music and these brief songs are a fine example of his ever maturing style. The work was written for the performers on this disk so here we have another creator recording. 

The great American/ French harpist Carlos Salzedo made an fine arrangement of Ravel’s Sonatine for piano for flute, cello and harp – no easy task as the Sonatine is pure piano music. Here his job was somewhat easier – arranging Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grècques for harp accompaniment. These songs are much lighter with harp than with piano and are most attractive. The Caplet sonnets, published in the final year of his life, are as approachable as are the Skempton songs, and as easy to assimilate. Two encores, slight pieces, but enjoyable nonetheless, bring this most enjoyable disk to a conclusion. 

James Gilchrist is a fine singer, with a clean, clear, what I would call, English voice. His diction is excellent and he knows how to interpret the words he is singing. His partner, Alison Nicholls, is a fine artist and she brings much colour and poetry to her playing. Jaime Martin’s brief contributions are most welcome. 

These are fine performances and this disk is a must for all interested in contemporary British song – the Roth and Skempton songs should be in all collections – and contemporary singing, for this is how it should be done. Full marks for an enterprising collection. The notes, though not extensive are helpful and the sound is outstanding.

Bob Briggs 



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