The Ballad Singer
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Aus Goethes Faust Op 75 No 3 [2:16]
Carl LOEWE (1796-1869) Edward Op 1 No 1 [6:38]; Die wandelnde Glocke Op 20 No 3 [2:02]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Erlkönig D328 [4:22]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Die Löwenbraut Op 31 No 1 [9:24]; Der Schatzgraber Op. 45 No. 1 [3:21]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Es war ein Markgraf überm Rhein Woo 33 No 29 [3:31]
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903) Der feuerreiter No.44 of Gedichte von Eduard Mörike [5:44]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911) Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen [7:44]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924) La belle dame sans merci [6:06]
Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970) Lord Randall [5:23]
Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900) The Lost Chord [4:17]
Louis EMANUEL (1819-c.1889) The Desert [6:55]
Cole PORTER (1891-1964) The Tale of the Oyster [3:43]
Gerald Finley (tenor) Julius Drake (piano)
rec. All Saints, Durham Road, East Finchley, London, 1-3 February 2010. DDD
HYPERION CDA67830 [71:28]

This is a most interesting disc. It explores a genre that, as the excellent accompanying booklet explains, evolved from a dance-song, typically performed by street minstrels, coming to mean “a strophic ... narrative song”. As befits the tradition, the songs of which this release consists explore various aspects of the off-beat, the fantastic and the supernatural. They range from the satirical scorn of Goethe’s Faust, through the surreal scenario captured in The Walking Bell, to the nightmarish horror of Erlkönig and Die Löwenbraut. Gentler sentiments are also represented, however. An example is to be found in Sullivan’s The Lost Chord - a drawing-room favourite that is here given an entirely new aspect by a sincere and artistic performance. The following item, The Desert, by the Plymouth-born Louis Emanuel, provides light relief.

The performances throughout from both artists are imaginative, thoughtful, strikingly coloured and vividly projected. Any pair of musicians performing Erlkönig must inevitably be measured against the exceptional recording made by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore. This comes very close, with unerring clarity in the reiterated triplets from Drake and well-delineated voicing from Finley. It never strays into caricature. Imaginative voicing, too, is a feature of Edward, a grim story of patricide with a twist at its end – the repeated utterances of ‘Edward, Edward’ and ‘Mother, mother’ are altered throughout, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically; but always convincingly within the dramatic context. Drake shines especially in Wolf’s Der Feuerreiter, the piano part of which could easily disintegrate into chaos, so dense and so complex is it. Its colours, registration and detail are so expertly drawn out that it forms a perfect counterpoint to the textual setting. The one small quibble is Finley’s slightly less-than-convincing and inconsistently applied Scottish accent in Lord Randall – the American accent he employs for Cole Porter’s The Tale of the Oyster is similarly unpredictable.

Overall, however, this is an extremely well-presented disc which is a refreshing counterpoint to the lieder cycles and chanson sets that adorn the catalogues. Well-known and less familiar composers are united in the realisation of a genre that is all too often overlooked and these works find firm advocates in two fine and intellectually attuned artists.

Em Marshall-Luck

Extremely well-presented. A refreshing counterpoint to the lieder and chanson that adorn the catalogues.