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Immortal and Beloved
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
An die ferne Geliebte, Op. 98 [14:28]
Piano Trio No.. 7 in B flat, Op. 97 ‘Archduke’ [40:16]
James WRIGHT (b. 1959)
Letters to the Immortal Beloved (2012) [15:49]
David John Pike (baritone)
James Parker (piano)
Gryphon Trio
rec. 2008, Salle Françoys-Bernier, Domaine Forget (Archduke); 2017, Isabel Bader Center for the Performing Arts, Kingston, Ontario
ANALEKTA AN29522 [70:33]

Back in 2013, I welcomed David John Pike’s début recital of English song, nominating it as one my records of the year. In the booklet for this issue, the singer acknowledges that fact; and I am pleased to extend a similarly warm welcome to this new disc. In my earlier review, I referred to his “well-focused and steady delivery, imaginative response to the text, and real sense of legato”. All of these facets are well in evidence in his performance of Beethoven’s pioneering song cycle An die ferne Geliebte. The dynamic shading is phenomenal, down to a near-whisper in Wo die Berge so blau (track 2), Although he might be regarded as embracing Beethoven’s indicated acceleration at the end of the first and last songs a mite too enthusiastically, there is a real sense of discovery and enthusiasm in his response to the words.

The cycle leads, after a rather brief pause, into the newly written three settings by Canadian composer James Wright. They are centred around the letters that Beethoven wrote to an anonymous lover (but never sent) during a period of illness in 1812. There is an element of repetition in the words themselves, but even so I find that Wright’s reiteration of phrases such as “look at the beauty of nature” somewhat superfluous (he sets Beethoven’s original German text). The three songs feature an accompaniment for piano trio. The first and third are positively romantic in idiom, to the extent that the quotation from Beethoven’s Andante favori in the last movement (track 9) fits into the music with hardly a ripple. The second movement is oddly more modern in style, but in his extensive booklet note the composer does not really explain this discrepancy. David John Pike sings the words with the appropriate passion, and the well-balanced accompaniment – James Parker taking a leading and responsive role, as in the Beethoven cycle – provides a halo of resonance around the voice.

It seems appropriate that the disc should be completed by Beethoven’s so-called ‘Archduke’ trio, written at the same time as the song cycle. But it seems odd that the performance on this disc should have been set down nearly ten years earlier, in a quite distinct and rather less resonant acoustic. The result is more analytical in tone but the players of the Gryphon Trio, a Canadian body, give a firm and positive rendition of the score. The three works are grouped together under the generic title of “Immortal and Beloved”, which serves to unify the theme of the disc. David John Pike himself provides the translations of the Beethoven texts into English, and does so with accomplishment and clarity. The programme is of course unique, and the settings by James Wright are well worth a hearing; but the singer’s rendition of the Beethoven cycle is something rather special too.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

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