This Other Eden: a Landscape of English Poetry and Song
Kitty Whately (mezzo)
Joseph Middleton (piano)
Navarra Quartet (Magnus Johnston (violin I), Marije Ploemacher (violin Ii), Simone van der Giessen (viola), Brian O'Kane (cello))
Kevin Whately and Madelaine Newton (readers)
rec. 2014, Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex.
Full track-listing below CHAMPS HILL CHRCD094 [81.53]
As mezzo Kitty Whately writes in her bubbly and enthusiastic forward, this is a very personal album of some of her favourite songs in English. I put it that way round, as opposed to English song, as the disc ranges widely to include Barber’s setting of Dover Beach and James MacMillan’s The Children, to a poem by William Soutar. It’s personal in another sense given that her parents, the actors Kevin Whately and Madelaine Newton read the interspersed poems. This construction reminds me of some cherished LPs, in which the same practice was followed to great effect. Here the disc is divided into ‘chapters’ – This Other Eden, Forests and Gardens, Meadows and Fields, Wilds of Scotland and Coasts and Seas. Appropriate songs and poems can be found in each chapter – Dover Beach is obviously under Coasts and Seas, for instance, whilst The Salley Gardens is logically found in Forests and Gardens. Edward Thomas’ famous poem Adlestrop is under the Meadows and Fields rubric.
What is admirable about Whately’s approach is the inclusion of both dramatic flourish – such as mark out her performance of John Ireland’s Earth’s Call – and expressive nuance, which can be savoured as Warlock’s My Own Country draws to a close. Here she fines down her often big tone in the interests of some extra, introspective charge. In the Ireland song she’s also unafraid to take her time; Alfreda Hodgson in her Lyrita recording of the Ireland song took it a degree or two quicker. Joseph Middleton makes an admirable partner throughout and they are joined a few times by violinist Magnus Johnston and cellist Brian O’Kane. You needn’t worry that this is a saccharine sachet too far as the pre-war Lyons Corner House ethos is not evoked.
It’s good to hear Michael Head’s charming, light A Green Cornfield and the contrasting, increasingly urgent and exciting The Estuary. It’s especially good to hear Joseph Horovitz’s Lady Macbeth: a scena which sets speeches from three scenes in the Scottish play, ending inevitably with the first scene of Act V, Out, damned spot! This really is a scena at eight-and-a-half-minutes and its volatility is very well conveyed in this performance. James MacMillian is the only other living composer represented and his setting of Soutar’s bleak poem on the death of children by aerial bombing in the Second World War is accompanied by daringly drawn out – appalled, powerful, uncomfortable – silences. There are also piano outbursts like detonations in an often rightly gruelling and unconsoling setting.
Interpretative matters are – like this disc – very personal but I find too little regret in The Salley Gardens. It’s all a bit ‘oh well’. Similarly VW’s Silent Noon is neither as hushed, nor as inward as it might be; an element of metricality seeps in which saps it of its stasis. Dover Beach, with the Navarra Quartet, however, is sensitively shaped and evocative.
Middleton enjoys two solo outings, on Ireland’s Spring Will Not Wait and the rather unusual Britten Early Morning Bathe, which is full of wave-like motion. The poems aren’t generally-speaking obscure; Gaunt’s speech, de la Mare’s England, two well-known Housmans, Sea Fever; but it was good to find Wendell Berry. In general – and whilst I appreciate that this isn’t a specialist undertaking – I wish the poems had ranged farther. Yes, Louis Untermeyer’s The Swimmers is a good choice, but why not - say – some Lascelles Abercrombie for once in a while, instead of Thomas.
Still, that’s to criticise a disc for what it’s not, rather than for what it is. This is a pleasingly engaging recital, excellently recorded and annotated, in which for the most part Kitty Whately succeeds in projecting these songs with personality and insight but without histrionic gestures. Jonathan Woolf
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) - This sceptred Isle (Richard II) John IRELAND (1879-1962) Earth's Call [5.24] Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930) My own country [2.27]
Walter de la Mare (1873-1956) - England Roger QUILTER (1877-1953) I will go with my father a-ploughing [2.21]
John Clare (1793-1864) - In Hilly-wood Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937) The Salley Gardens [2.23] Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) We'll to the woods no more [1.42]
Wendell Berry (born 1934) - The peace of wild things Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) King David [5.02]
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) - The Darkling Thrush Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924) La belle Dame sans Merci [6.06] Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Silent Noon [4.05]
Christina Rosetii (1830-1894) - The Lambs of Grasmere Michael HEAD (1900-1976) A Green Cornfield [2.17] John IRELAND Spring will not wait [3.58]
Edward Thomas (1878-1917) - Aldestrop Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937) The Fields are Full [1.37] Joseph HOROVITZ (born 1926) Lady Macbeth: A Scena [8.31] Roger QUILTER I wish and I wish [2.14]
A.E. Housman - Into my heart an air that kills James MacMILLAN (born1959) The Children [6.51]
A.E. Housman - O Stay at home my lad and plough [00.31] Folksong Ma bonny lad [1.11]
Louis Untermeyer (1885-1977) - The Swimmers Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) Early Morning Bathe [2.32] Michael HEAD The Estuary [4.40]
John Masefield (1878-1967) - Sea Fever [1.07] Samuel BARBER (1910-1981) Dover Beach [7.52]