This disc is an extremely mixed bag, with fine performances of some of the songs featured, and sorry renditions of others. My initial reaction was intense disappointment, but the disc does get better as it goes along.
The bad, then: I found the opening song, Vaughan Williams’s Silent Noon full of mangled vowels, restricted sound, a tone that I found too harsh, and a style that would work better for Italian opera than for delicate English solo song - far too histrionic, and nowhere near subtle or nuanced enough. The ensuing Vaughan Williams’ Love bade me welcome, is better, as Stone captures more atmosphere. Yet there is too little modulation in the voice - the songs are sung too straight, all the same, without the inflexions and nuances that would bring them to life. I felt that there were ugly scoops up to notes on occasions in both the Vaughan Williams and Quilter songs, and I was particularly put off by the performance of Quilter’s Love's philosophy. Stone simply doesn’t capture the exhilaration and sublimity of this, and the ending is far too over the top - again, back to the Italian opera scenario. There is far too little flexibility in Purcell’s I attempt from Love's sickness to fly - devoid of lyricism, and sung absolutely in time, rather than being allowed to flow.
Other songs were better - such as Bridge’s Come to me in my dreams and Love went a-riding, the latter being given quite an exciting and fervent rendition. Handel’s Silent worship works fairly well, and I liked the slightly lighter touch in Dowland’s Awake, sweet Love, thou art return'd. Butterworth’s When I was one-and-twenty is given a fairly characterful performance, and Stone successfully captures the mourning quality needed for Warlock’s Take, 0 take those lips away. He is also very good at portraying the dramatic songs, such as the two Finzis, To Lizbie Browne and I said to Love, and he seems able to cope with the idiom in these. The problem, therefore, would appear to be the subtler songs. This is demonstrated perfectly by Britten’s Wild with passion - Stone is excellent in the angry sections but can’t capture the gossamer delicacy of lines such as “Even so, Night’s starry rest possesses....”, which he sings in far too pedestrian a manner, too straight, with too little tenderness.
The disc concludes with If thou would'st ease thine heart, composed by Stone’s (excellent) accompanist Stephen Barlow in the style of Quilter. This is quite a moving song and a good note on which to end the disc.
I deeply regret having to criticise this disc - it is a superb programme and, as someone to whom English solo songs means more than almost any other musical form, the last thing I want to do is to discourage. But I simply do not feel that Mark Stone has completely got the measure of this form. His approach and style is often, it seems to me, wrong - too histrionic and waily. As a result he does not do the more delicate and understated songs justice.
The programme notes are impressive and make one admire what Stone is trying to do (if not necessarily the way he does it!), but I must confess to having been put off by the numerous photos of him in what he presumably thinks are Romantic poses! I also found the lack of a biography slightly surprising - particularly given the number of photographs!
see also review by John Quinn
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Silent noon [4:47]; Love bade me welcome [5:48]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626) Awake, sweet Love, thou art return'd [3:08]
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953) Go, lovely rose [2:59]; Love's philosophy [1:29]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695), arr. Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) I attempt from Love's sickness to fly [2:25]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) Come to me in my dreams [3:59]; Love went a-riding [2:00]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759), arr. Arthur SOMERVELL (1863-1937) Silent worship [2:26]
John IRELAND (1879-1962) If we must part [2:21]; Love is a sickness full of woes [1:53]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Piercing eyes [1:40]
George BUTTERWORTH (1885-1916) With rue my heart is laden [2:05]; When I was one-and-twenty [1:18]
Joseph HAYDN Pleasing pain [2:21]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930) Take, 0 take those lips away [2:07]; Thou gav'st me leave to kiss [0:50]
George Frideric HANDEL, arr. Ebenezer PROUT (1835-1909) Where'er you walk [4:16]
Gerald FINZI(190l-1956) To Lizbie Browne [3:46]; I said to Love [3:16]
Henry PURCELL, arr. Benjamin BRITTEN If music be the food of love [4:00]
Benjamin BRITTEN The salley gardens [2:43]; Wild with passion [2:05]
John DOWLAND Come again! sweet Love doth now invite [5:54]
Stephen BARLOW (b. 1954) If thou would'st ease thine heart [4:00]