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Tell Me The Truth About Love
see end of review for track listing
Amanda Roocroft (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano)
rec. Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, 19-26 August 2011

This is one of the most imaginative solutions to the construction of a song recital that I have ever encountered. It comes in a handsomely packaged and beautifully designed hardback booklet disguised as a photograph album with the CD inserted at the back. The whole programme has been constructed by Joseph Middleton, who explains that the idea was to tell the story of a love affair over a period of a weekend, described as a mini-opera in four acts with overture and postlude. It draws upon a wide range of composers to describe the course of events. Only three - Brahms, Britten and Wolf - are represented by more than one song, with all the others contributing one song apiece to the twenty-nine items on this CD. This includes a considerable number of items which are rare or totally unknown. In order to demonstrate the sheer range of this panorama, I have listed the composers and their songs at the end of this review in alphabetical order. In the course of my discussion I will take the tracks in the order in which they are presented.
The opening rendition of Britten’s setting of Auden’s Tell me the truth about love has the right sly and slightly sleazy atmosphere. This is aided by the almost jazzy accompaniment by Middleton. Amanda Roocroft rises to the climax in the final verse with passion. The ‘action’ proper begins with a sequence entitled Love at first sight, containing settings by Schumann, Boulanger, Wolf (O wär’ dein Haus), Chausson and Quilter. Lili Boulanger’s treatment of Francis Jammes (1868-1938) extracted from her lovely cycle Clairières dans le ciel is particularly beautiful. The Quilter setting of Love’s philosophy would ideally benefit from a larger voice, although Roocroft is not afraid to give full-throated romantic delivery when required even when this involves some sacrifice in clarity of diction.
The second sequence, entitled An encounter, consists of songs by Loewe, Brahms (Wir wandelten), Ireland and the pseudonymous Poldowski. The Loewe is not one of his more famous narrative ballads, but one of his much more rarely heard individual lyric settings. The song by Régine Wieniawski, the Belgian daughter of Wieniawski who settled in England, married a baronet there and composed under the name of ‘Poldowski’ is a completely unknown quantity. There appears to be no other recording of her Verlaine song En sourdine. It is a real discovery challenging more famous settings of the same poem by Debussy and Fauré.
The third sequence, Liebestod, contains the songs by Strauss, Dunhill, Mompou and Rachmaninov. The Dunhill setting of Yeats’ The cloths of Heaven, is one of the greatest ever treatments of that poet. Although Roocroft lacks the inner stillness of interpreters such as Dame Janet Baker she nevertheless manages to convey the sense of quiet rapture that is needed. When are we going to get a complete recording of the marvellous cycle The wind among the reeds with the full orchestral accompaniment? The Mompou setting is an engaging - although extended - trifle, no more. The Rachmaninov song, Midsummer nights is declaimed by Roocroft with the right sense of dramatic involvement, while Middleton copes manfully with the virtuoso ‘accompaniment’.
The fourth sequence, entitled rather depressingly The morning after the night before, contains the songs by Bridge, Grieg, Wolf (Geh’, Geliebter) and Marx. Bridge’s setting of Keats in Adoration is a quiet miniature. The Marx Und gestern hat er mir Rosen gebracht which rounds out this sequence is a full-blooded romantic outpouring which challenges for dramatic involvement the extended Wolf song from the Spanish Songbook which precedes it.
The final sequence, Deception and betrayal, is the longest with ten songs: the two remaining songs by Brahms and those by Schubert, Debussy, Fauré, Schoenberg, Barber, Copland, Weill and Hahn. Roocroft delivers the Schubert setting Du liebst mich nicht with a real sense of inwardness. The early Schoenberg song Warnung is another rarity which well merits revival. The dying fall at the end of the Debussy setting of Pierre Loüys (1870-1925) is most affectingly done and the Fauré Fleur jetée conjures up real warmth. The Copland’s Heart, we will forget him (Emily Dickinson) is a beautiful piece. The Weill song Je ne t’aime pas - composed during his Parisian exile - is a superb extended romantic meditation with none of the cabaret overtones that one might expect. We are also treated to unexpected passages where the poem is reduced to a spoken line. After this passionate declamation the delicate Hahn song Infidélité seems almost perfunctory.
As a postlude we are given an encore in the shape of Britten’s folksong setting Early one morning. This is one of Britten’s most imaginative responses to English folksong, with its lonely piano accompaniment almost divorced from the vocal line which it ostensibly supports. Roocroft lends it the sense of desolation and abandonment which the words imply, although once again one regrets the lack of clarity in her English diction. The supply of beautiful tone - which Roocroft furnishes in plenty - need not mean that the vowels need to be carefully rounded as often as we find here.
Nevertheless this is an imaginatively constructed recital. Some of the unexpected juxtapositions of style and idiom - not as jarring as might sometimes be anticipated - provide a real sense of illumination. The booklet gives full texts and translations into English, as appropriate, and the design and artwork by Anthony Roocroft is beautifully presented. We are not given very much detail about the songs themselves, dates of composition and so on, but then that is clearly not the intention of the recital which is to illustrate the story of the unhappy love affair rather than to pick out the more mechanical aspects of the composers’ art. By the same token we are not given the durations of the individual songs which make up each of the sequences. I have supplied the missing details, as far as possible, in the track-listing.
Paul Corfield Godfrey

Track-Listing (in alphabetical order)
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Rain has fallen [from Chamber music, Op.10] (1935) [2.22]
Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918)
Vous m’avez regardé avec tout votre âme [from Clairières dans le ciel] (1914) [1.41]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Wir wandelten, Op.96/2 [3.04]
Am Sonntag morgen, Op.49/1 [1.10]
Du sprichst, dass ich mich täuschte, Op.32/6 [2.54]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Adoration (1905) [2.53]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Tell me the truth about love (1936) [5.25]
Early one morning [folksong arrangement] (1959) [3.10]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Le charme, Op.2/2 [1.38]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Heart, we will forget him [from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson] (1950) [2.03]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La chevelure [from Chansons de Bilitis] (1901) [3.26]
Thomas DUNHILL (1877-1946)
The cloths of Heaven [from The wind among the reeds, Op.33] [2.18]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Fleur jetée, Op.39/2 [1.30]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Jeg elsker Dig [from The heart’s melodies, Op.5] [1.37]
Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)
Infidélité (1891) [2.44]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
The trellis (1920) [3.18]
Carl LOEWE (1796-1869)
Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben (1836) [1.11]
Joseph MARX (1822-1964)
Und gestern hat er mir Rosen gebracht (1908) [1.53]
Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Damunt de tu només les flors [from Combat del somni] [4.09]
‘POLDOWSKI’ [Régine Wieniawski] (1879-1932)
En sourdine [2.41]
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
Love’s philosophy, Op.3/1 [1.27]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Midsummer nights, Op.14/5 [1.53]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Warnung (1899) [2.03]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Du liebst mich nicht, D756 [3.34]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Seit ich ihn gesehen [from Frauenliebe und -leben, Op.42] [2.37]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Nachtgesang, Op.29/3 (1895) [2.50]
Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
Je ne t’aime pas (1934) [4.33]
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
O wär’ dein Haus [from Italienisches Liederbuch] (1896) [1.36]
Geh’, Geliebter, geh’ jetzt! [from Spanisches Liederbuch] (1888) [3.51]