The Times Online, 2th July 2007
In Ainsley's winsome recital, Tippett and Purcell meet as timeless contemporaries. The tenor's sad, elfin sprightliness suits Tippett's Songs for Ariel as much as Purcell's Ah How Sweet. His burning, ardent tone pleads as effectively in The Heart's Assurance as in What Shall I Do?
Ainsley's voice is in prime form - it is effortless at the top of his range, and the seamless shift from full voice to falsetto is magical. He is abetted to the peerless song accompanist Iain Burnside, whose sensitivity to the texts equals the singer's. A wonderful selection of poets, from Alun Lewis to the comical Mr D'Urfey, makes this as valuable to connoisseurs of literature as of the voice.
The Times Online
Taking its title from the last of The Heart's Assurance, this recital juxtaposes four vocal works by Tippett (The Heart's Assurance, Boyhood's End, Music and Songs for Ariel) with none of the Purcell arrangements he made with Walter Bergmann when both were at Morley College; there is also Benjamin Britten's Canticle I - a Purcellian counterpart to Boyhood's End, like Heart's Assurance written for Peter Pears's voice.
The opening `Song' has much of the complexity of the piano Concerto; after accompanying Pears in the premiere Britten declined to perform it again due to the fact that it required so much practice.
Other than the delightful Tempest settings these were for a 1961 Old Vic production, Tippett's music needs some `head work' - I remember as a a student listening in wonderment to his Third Programme talks, but failing to grasp much of what he said! - but you feel you owe it to Ainsley for his quite marvellous singing throughout the programme, and the supple matching accompaniments by Iain Burnside (this is a co-production with Radio 3's Voices programmes, which he presents).
hifinews.co.uk - Music Reviews
Unlike his contemporary, Benjamin Britten, Tippett did not write a great deal for voice and piano. Perhaps because Tippett did not have Britten's parallel career as a pianist and accompanist he did not have quite the impetus to write songs for his own consumption. But Tippett's own parallel career - as musical director at Morley College - had a bearing on his output; it was whilst at Morley that he discovered the music of Purcell. Not only did this influence his style, but he went on to produce editions of some of Purcell's songs. The present recital of Tippett's complete song oeuvre, performed by tenor John Mark Ainsley and accompanist Ian Burnside, solves the problem of what else to put on the disc by including a generous selection of Tippett's editions of Purcell songs.
Tippett's cantata Boyhood's End was written for Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears in 1943. Using a mixture of recitative and arioso inspired by Purcell's Blessed Virgin's Expostulation Tippett produced a wonderfully flexible, quickly changing work. Surprisingly he took for his text, not a sequence of poems, but an extract from W.H. Hudson's autobiography Far and Away. Remarkably in war-torn Britain Tippett was able to conjure up the magic of Hudson's childhood in exotic Argentina. Tippett went on to write his song-cycle The Heart's Assurance for Britten and Pears. The catalyst, though, was the suicide of Tippett's friend Francesca Allinson in 1945. Tippett was devastated and it took him five years to produce the cycle; it is that rare thing, a 2nd World War song-cycle, using texts by a pair of poets who died unconscionably young in the war: one at 19; the other at 20. Tippett has a very personal take on the song genre and makes very free with the text, in a wonderfully creative way. The textures of the piano accompaniment are similarly original. Britten hated it, resenting the level of practice that it demanded and he never played it again.
There are no such problems in this disc where Ainsley and Burnside sound as if they were born to perform this music. Ainsley's beautiful focused voice is ideal for Tippett's complex vocal lines and Burnside seems a natural with Tippett's enriched textures. Perhaps if Britten had been more sympathetic, if he and Pears had performed the cycle with some degree of regularity, then Tippett might have been persuaded to write more songs. As it is the Tippett oeuvre is completed with a pair of occasional works. Music can be sung solo or chorally, a florid setting of Shelley written for the East Sussex and West Kent Choral Festival in 1960. The Songs for Ariel were part of his incidental music to 'The Tempest' written for the Old Vic in 1961. Textures are sparer than in his earlier piece, but still the baroque shines through.
Benjamin Britten wrote his Canticle 1 as a companion piece to Boyhood's End. It also uses Purcell as its inspiration, but Britten sets a 17th century text by Francis Quarles. Supposedly spiritual, it too has a homo-erotic element and is positively gay - in the traditional sense of the word - in the final section. Ainsley and Burnside complement these gems with a selection of Purcell songs produced in editions by Tippett and Walter Bergman. Tippett keeps a light, surprisingly modern hand on the works and his accompaniments feel far more time-less than Britten's more heavily worked versions of this repertoire. An added novelty is the inclusion of Tippett and Bergman's edition of Pelham Humfrey's charming setting of John Donne's A Hymn to God the Father.
This disc was recorded in association with the BBC's Voices programme, an excellent initiative which I hope will enable other young singers to explore interesting repertoire on disc. This is a lovely CD and shows Ainsley's vocal talents off well. The only problem is the weight of history that these works bring, the weight of the famous tenors who were associated with the works. This is not the only disc to marry Tippett to Purcell; Martyn Hill and Andrew Ball produced something similar for Hyperion in 1995. This has a slight edge in that it includes the Songs for Achilles, with guitar accompaniment. But what they don't include is Britten's Canticle 1; I felt that this programme's biggest strength was the way we could experience the problematic interaction between two great contemporaries.
Remember Your Lovers is the title of the final poem in Tippett's enraptured song cycle The Heart's Assurance, the centrepiece of this inspirational recital by John Mark Ainsley and Iain Burnside. There are homoerotic undertones to this cycle and Britten's Canticle I, which ends, as Burnside puts it, in a "gay lullaby".
The Heart's Assurance is also, like Tippett's Boyhood's End, an impassioned response by the composer to the senseless destruction of the Second World War, and Ainsley is acutely responsive to the cycle's richly evocative text - the trembling kiss, the hurling night, the dark antechamber of desire - set unforgettably by Tippett.
The strong Purcellian influence on Tippett and Britten is also pointed up in the imaginatively conceived disc, wonderfully performed.