Quink is a vocal ensemble consisting of just five singers. Though
the individual voices aren’t specified in the booklet
I’m guessing that there are two sopranos, an alto, a tenor
and a bass. They make a light, clean sound and, technically,
their singing is flawless. However, in that very technical perfection
lies also a weakness, at least as far as this programme is concerned.
However, before we get to the weakness let’s salute the
enterprise of this programme, especially in the selection of
the items by Vaughan Williams. With the exception of the very
familiar Linden Lea most of these part songs are rarities;
indeed, many of them are not listed in Michael Kennedy’s
authoritative book The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams.
As will be seen from the track listing, Quink offer a mix of
pieces, some from the early years of the twentieth century and
some from the composer’s last years. All are worth hearing.
I was intrigued by The unquiet grave, a spare folk song
setting for SSA which seemed to evoke the ambience of the earlier
Riders to the Sea (1936). Silence and music is
a setting of a poem by Ursula Vaughan Williams, composed in
the year of their marriage. Slightly later is Heart’s
Music, a rarefied setting of words by Thomas Campion.
Though I admire the enterprise behind the selection of the programme
I’m much less enamoured of its execution. As I said, Quink’s
singing is technically flawless but one looks for something
more in music like this - or at least I do. Sample Linden
Lea. The singing is very precise but where’s the life?
It’s all too perfect and sounds soulless and studied.
In particular I dislike very much the way a break is made after
the word “down” in the line ‘do lean down
low in Linden Lea.’ It sounds affected and suggests that
the singers don’t feel either the words or the music instinctively.
To be fair, the group’s refinement is better suited to
a song like Rest, a beautiful setting. However, if you
listen to Silence and music you may admire, as I do,
the way the group deliver the hushed, somewhat strange music
that forms the majority of the setting but you may agree with
me that the singers could and should have let go more at the
song’s brief climax.
I’m afraid that by the time I got to the Finzi settings
I’d rather wearied of Quink’s approach. They sing
Finzi in the same way. In the Bridges settings the gentle ‘I
praise the tender flower’ benefits from their refinement
but when we get to the exhilarating ‘My spirit sang all
day’ the singing is clean and lithe but I sense no ecstasy,
no willingness to let go. Frankly, by comparison with the recording
by The Finzi Singers (CHAN 8936) this is a damp squib. Again,
‘Nightingales’ is beautifully balanced but I felt
the technical perfection was too calculating. The Finzi Singers,
who also include Three short Elegies in their programme,
are infinitely more reliable and idiomatic guides to these songs.
I don’t know if this 1987 recording is a reissue; the
disc has only recently arrived for review. There are one or
two irritating slips in the booklet, which ought to have been
corrected at the proof-reading stage. The recorded sound is
clear and clean - rather like the performances, really. I’m
afraid I shan’t be returning to this disc, even to hear
rare RVW. In terms of the approach to the music and its execution
this is a fundamentally misconceived project. I simply don’t
feel the singers, for all their technical prowess, have any
real feeling for the music; it’s not in their blood. One
has the impression that the music is being presented in a laboratory
by people in white coats.
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