Felicity Lott (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)
rec. April 2000, Champs Hill, Pulborough, Sussex. DDD
See complete track listing at the end of review.
CHAMPS HILL RECORDS CHRCD008 [74:35]
Like a piece of amber that stores the summers of millions of years ago, this disc will keep you warm in the cold times to come. I don’t know whose idea it was to make such a themed album, but it was a good one. And the execution is just perfect, with glorious singing by Felicity Lott and superlative accompaniment by Graham Johnson.
The selection is generous, with some little-known songs, but also with many acknowledged masterpieces. Indeed, can anything be better than Schubert’s Auf dem Wasser zu singen, Fauré’s Clair de lune, Barber’s Sure on this Shining Night and Gershwin’s Summertime? And what about all of these under one roof? Most of these songs refer to summer either directly or indirectly, by mentioning flowers, meadows and other attributes of the season. Others, like Barber’s The Monk and the Cat, have no perceptible summer connection. A stronger overall association is the spiritual one: the happy, relaxed mood of the season, when “the living is easy”.
The voice of Felicity Lott now has a certain thinness and dryness: it is no longer one of those “ripe and juicy” sopranos. I would rather compare it to pure white silver. She is a master of tone-shading, and her diction is very clear. In the French songs one hears a foreigner, but only just. Graham Johnson balances Lott’s high voice with the middle and lower registers of the piano. An experienced accompanist, he knows exactly which weight to give to each phrase to achieve the best blending with the voice. Maybe it would be right to call the performance a duet, for Johnson is not playing: he is singing the piano.
Let’s take two songs that follow each other on the disc: Schumann’s Der Nussbaum and Brahms’ Meine Liebe is grün (what an eco-friendly name). In the former, the singer and the pianist seem to pass the melody from hand to hand, carefully, like a precious thing. In the last section the long, horizontal notes of the vocal part and the swiftly mobile, more vertical piano part together weave the musical fabric. And this togetherness, where each one listens to the other, is very much felt. The Brahms song is heavily loaded with ecstatic feelings. For this loading not to become an overload, each partner says a little less, so that combined they obtain the right emotional pressure. It’s like building the bridge from two sides of the river: the junction is the highest point.
The order in which the songs are ordered is well chosen. Interest is maintained from the opening Summertime to the last Amen of Rutter’s heavenly prayer. There are pleasant surprises on the way: Thomas Arne’s playful Shakespeare setting from 1746 or Frank Bridge’s euphoric Go Not, Happy Day or a guest from the nearby cabaret, Cole Porter’s jazzy Tale of an Oyster. Then again there’s a short visit into the world of children in Fraser-Simson’s Vespers, where Christopher Robin is saying his prayers. Most songs are gentle and lyrical: the mood is more that of a quiet summer evening or a lazy afternoon, than of a busy morning. France and Germany are represented by their best, but almost the entire Pantheon of British music is here.
The liner notes, alas-alack, are not by Graham Johnson. Still, they contain a concise essay that touches on each song in the recital (in English only). This album was recorded in 2000, and was at first released on ASV and BlackBox. I do not know whether some additional mastering was done for this release. The complete texts are provided, with German and French lyrics accompanied by English translations. The recording quality is excellent. The position of the musicians in aural space is not sharply defined, which increases this sense of unity: the voice and the piano seem to be growing out of each other.
Quintessential summer on disc.
Perfect execution of a good idea, with glorious singing and superlative accompaniment.
George GERSHWIN (1898 - 1937)
1. Summertime, from Porgy and Bess (1935) [2:20]
Samuel BARBER (1910 - 1981)
2. Sure on this shining night, from Four Songs Op.13/4 (1938) [2:20]
Edward ELGAR (1857 - 1934)
3. The Shepherd’s Song, from Three Songs Op.16/1 (1892) [2:49]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845 - 1924)
4. Clair de lune, Op. 46/2 (1887) [3:06]
Roger QUILTER (1877 - 1953)
5. Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, Op. 3/2 (1904) [2:04]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
6. Who is Sylvia? D. 891 (Op. 106/4) (1926) [2:48]
Thomas ARNE (1710 - 1778)
7. Where the Bee Sucks - Ariel’s Song from The Tempest (1746) [1:40]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803 - 1869)
8. L'ile inconnue, from Les Nuits d'été, H. 81 (Op. 7/6) (1840-41) [3:35]
9. Auf dem Wasser zu singen, D. 774 (Op. 72) (1823) [3:43]
10. Soir, Op. 83/2 (1894) [2:20]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 - 1856)
11. Der Nussbaum, from Myrthen Op. 25/3 (1840) [3:40]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833 - 1897)
12. Junge Liebe I ("Meine Liebe ist grün"), Op. 63/5 (1873) [1:35]
Liza LEHMANN (1862 - 1918)
13. In a Persian Garden (“Ah, Moon of my Delight”) (1896) [4:27]
14. Notre amour, Op. 23/2 (c.1897) [2:08]
15. Villanelle, from Les Nuits d'été, H. 81 (Op. 7/1) (1840-41) [2:18]
16. The monk and his cat, from Hermit Songs, Op. 29/8 (1952-53) [2:34]
Frank BRIDGE (1879 - 1941)
17. Go Not, Happy Day, H34 (1916) [1:35]
Frederick DELIUS (1862 - 1934)
18. To Daffodils, from Four Old English Songs, RT v/30 (1915) [2:14]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872 - 1958)
19. Orpheus with his Lute (c.1901) [2:23]
John IRELAND (1879 - 1962)
20. The Trellis [2:45]
21. Love's Philosophy, Op.3/1 (1905) [1:30]
Haydn WOOD (1882 - 1959)
22. A Brown Bird Singing (1922) [2:29]Irish Traditional
23. The lark in the clear air [1:32]
Peter WARLOCK (1894 - 1930)
24. Sleep (1922) [2:25]
Cole PORTER (1891 - 1964)
25. The Tale of an Oyster, from Fifty Million Frenchmen (1929) [3:09]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918 - 1990)
26. My House, from incidental music to Peter Pan (1950) [1:45]
Michael HEAD (1900 - 1976)
27. The Little Road to Bethlehem (1946) [2:32]
Harold FRASER-SIMSON (1872 - 1944)
28. Vespers (Christopher Robin is Saying his Prayers) (1924) [2:19]
John RUTTER (b.1945)
29. The Lord Bless You and Keep You (orig. for chorus & orchestra) [2:15]