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Whither must I wander?
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Songs of travel [complete] [22.29]
Five mystical songs (I got me flowers; Love bade me welcome; The call) [10.25]
Silent noon [4.06]*
Linden Lea [2.32]*
Blackmwore by the Stour [2.03]*
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Let us garlands bring [16.56]*
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
Three Shakespeare Songs, Op.6 [6.38]
David John Pike (baritone), Isabelle Trüb (piano)
rec. Conservatoire de la Ville de Luxembourg, January 2011 and *Centre ArcA, Bertrange, Luxembourg, April 2012

It is a real pleasure to make the acquaintance of David John Pike on this quite superb recording. The singer has all the qualities that one looks for in this repertoire: a well-focused and steady delivery, imaginative response to the text, and a real sense of legato. He can sustain a nicely shaded crescendo, as in the line “And this shall be for music when no one else is near” from The roadside fire, and the accompaniment by Isabelle Trüb is not only excellently played but well balanced with the voice. She makes much of the forlorn little epilogue I have trod the upward and the downward slope, only found among Vaughan Williams’s papers after his death.
Bryn Terfel has given us superlative recordings of both the principal cycles on this recording. His Songs of Travel has long been the most recommendable version of the set, and his Finzi Let us garlands bring with its incredibly slow version of Fear no more the heat of the sun packs an incredible emotional punch. That said, there are many who find Terfel’s shading and constant interpretation of the text is achieved at the sense of the lyrical line, and they will find Pike to be less controversial in this respect. However it should be added that both these cycles also exist in orchestral versions although the orchestration in Songs of Travel is not entirely by the composer. Those are also highly treasurable, and listeners who love these songs should have both. In fact, recordings of the Finzi in the orchestral form are hardly thick on the ground, and only Allen and Rattle have given us the Vaughan Williams.
Similarly the Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs are probably better known in their version for baritone, choir and orchestra; but the composer allowed for performances with just voice and piano, and Pike here gives us three of the songs, those which he contends in his booklet notes most suit that combination. He appears however to have overlooked the fact that Vaughan Williams specifically re-composed the final song for voice and piano in a substantially different version from that for chorus, and it would have been good to have the whole work in that form. I understand there were concerns regarding the amount of music that could have been squeezed onto the CD, but in the event there would have been room for the whole. Nevertheless the rendition of Love bade me welcome is very moving here, and amidst the heavenly beauty one hardly misses the chorus at all.
Pike also does well by the Quilter songs, although unfortunately the settings of O mistress mine and Come away, Death cannot match those by Finzi also included on this disc. The latter Finzi setting must be one of the greatest ever songs to this much-used Shakespeare text; the only other composer who has come close to rivalling it is Sibelius, using a Finnish translation.
The only ‘miss’ in this otherwise unmissable recital is the performance of Silent noon, which sounds very sunlit here and not in the least mysterious. The line “Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragonfly hangs like a blue thread” completely misses the sense of rapt wonder that is found by Terfel or by John Shirley-Quirk in his old Saga recording. Pike redeems himself in the final two tracks, with a nicely straight delivery of Linden Lea and an uproarious Dorset accent in Blackmwore by the Stour.
This recital should draw in anyone who cares about British song and the future of British singing. They will thoroughly enjoy themselves, as I did – comparisons with Shirley-Quirk and Terfel are not at all inappropriate when listening to artistry such as this.
Paul Corfield Godfrey