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Songs from our Ancestors
Flowing Water [6:26]
Dominick ARGENTO (b.1927)
Letters from Composers: Schubert [4:26]
Letters from Composers: Chopin [3:26]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Second Lute Song (from Gloriana) [3:54]
Xu CHANGJUN (b.1957)
Sword dance [5:19]
Chen YI (b.1953)
Shuo Chang [6:48]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
In darkness let me dwell [3:33]
Come again, sweet love doth now invite [2:03]
White as lilies was her face [2:06]
My thoughts are wing’d with hopes [1:32]
Stephen GOSS (b.1964)
The Book of Songs [12:27]
Ruan JI (210-263)
Drunken Ecstasy [2:09]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die Mainacht, D194 [2:00]
Der König in Thule, D367 [2:56]
Schubert: An die Musik D547 [2:24]
Ständchen 'Leise flehen meine Lieder', D957 No. 4 [3:48]
Ian Bostridge (tenor)
Xuefei Yang (guitar)
rec. January & April 2016, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, London
GLOBE MUSIC GM-001 [70:17]

First, don’t be misled by the carefully worded title; much of this music is quite contemporary. After all, only Dowland and Schubert could be considered ‘old’ music. No, what the title seems to imply is that the 20th and 21st century pieces have all been ‘informed’ by our ancestors. This connection in some cases goes back many hundreds of years.

It's an unusual project you might think for Ian Bostridge. He is a singer much associated with the more ‘classical’ repertoire, especially Schubert. In fact, his CV tells us that he has played in Thomas Adès’s opera The Tempest and Britten operas such as his memorable Turn of the Screw as Peter Quint and as Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky's The Rake’s Progress. In this CD he branches out yet further. Unexpectedly he pairs up with a wonderfully sensitive and warm-toned guitarist Xuefei Yang who shows a deep understanding of what Bostridge tries to achieve in this wide–ranging programme.

It’s also a beautifully planned programme. Dowland to start with: five well contrasted songs accompanied by the guitar which works well. I did feel however that Bostridge was a little over-earnest in these songs but his opening In darkness let me dwell was very movingly conveyed. Britten’s opera Gloriana is featured with a Lute Song of the Earl of Essex whom Dowland surely knew. This has been arranged by Julian Bream who knew Britten. The text by William Plomer begins like Wilbye’s madrigal Happy o Happy he but the words are not otherwise given.

Then comes the first of the four guitar solos - all works by Chinese composers each of which evokes some aspect of Chinese culture and the natural world. The most radical, stylistically speaking, by Chen Yi is called Shao Chang meaning ‘Speak-Sing’. It evokes the art of story-telling. It was written especially for Xuefei Yang. Sword Dance was inspired by a poem from the Tang Dynasty, which is given. It would have been played on the traditional liuqin.

Linking these things come four love-orientated songs by Schubert. It’s a rare pleasure to hear the piano parts rendered on the guitar. Apparently Schubert normally composed at the guitar and not the piano. Later we have Dominic Argento’s Letters from Composers of which Schubert is one. Sadly, no texts are printed and curiously there is also no text given of the last Schubert Song An die Musik. The final songs constitute a cycle on Chinese poetry from the ancient Book of Songs written in the 8th century. The composer Stephen Goss who was commissioned by Bostridge and Yang chooses five mostly love poems separated by a brief guitar solo called Pastoral. The last one is a Lament which sets two short verses about the loss of a loved one. This brings the cycle and the entire recording to a thoughtful and poignant end rounding out much that has gone before.

Although Bostridge's is not a voice I would choose for some of this music the recital is irresistible as a whole. There's much outstanding music-making with some rare and fascinating pieces. The presentation is quite a luxury item in itself. A hard cardboard casing surrounds the attached booklet which comes with some distinctive brown and white photos of the performers. Their setting is the Sam Wanaker Theatre encompassed by candles. This, after all, is the whole concept of the theatre, attached to the Globe: to perform Shakespeare’s plays as they would have been done at say, the Blackfriars Theatre towards the end of then playwright's career. I digress, the booklet offers copious comments on each of the pieces. There's also an introductory essay by Bill Barclay, the Director of Music for Shakespeare’s Globe, about this new Globe label and the concerts that have already taken place in the extraordinary atmosphere of the little theatre which, incidentally, has a most appropriate acoustic for an intimate recital such as this.

So, with the promise that there will be more recordings made in this enchanting space this is altogether a very auspicious start for this new enterprise.

Gary Higginson

Previous review: Simon Thompson



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