This song recital by the renowned mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, accompanied here by the pianist Joseph Middleton, provides us with a good cross section of English art song ranging over a period stretching from Parry and Stanford to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and embraces both familiar and unfamiliar, including two previously unrecorded pieces by Benjamin Britten. The impression gained by the listener is of the astonishing variety and richness of the repertoire during this period. 'A land without music', indeed!!
The backbone of the recital is provided by Britten, including his enchanting 'A Charm of Lullabies' from which the two premiere recordings - A Sweet Lullaby' and 'Somnus, the Humble God' - were culled prior to publication. Beyond this the programme is very diverse, but always with a nod to the lyrical, and texts about sleep and the half-lights of twilight tend to predominate. Even the Turnage piece, which concludes the recital and was written especially for it, is perhaps as far as it is possible to get from the more radical works with which we usually associate him.
Each listener will have his or her personal favourites. Among the stand-out pieces for me is the rapturous Herbert Howells offering 'Goddess of the Night', to words by his friend F.W. Harvey, which surely approaches the greatness of his masterpiece in song, 'King David'. Another favourite of mine is Somervell's 'Into my heart an air that kills', the ninth poem in his famous Shropshire Lad cycle, in which so much hangs on one note in the vocal line, while the melody of the first song in the cycle is quietly intoned by the piano. In a couple of instances, we are given the opportunity to compare different settings of the same text, as in Yeats's 'The Cloths of Heaven' (Dunhill, Clarke) and Wolfe's 'Journey's End' (Bridge, Holst). Another welcome inclusion is Tippett's Songs of Ariel; and there are individual contributions from Parry, Stanford, Gibbs and Moeran, along with three songs by Gurney. All the 'usual culprits' are present, except for Warlock - a somewhat surprising omission.
Anyone with a love of English art song will find something to suit here. The artistes are in excellent form, and Chandos provides the high standard of recording we have come to expect over the years. Buy with confidence.
COME TO ME IN MY DREAMS: Connolly / Middleton (Chandos CHAN 10944) **** When songs like the twenty-nine included here are performed in recitals, it’s usually in quite large venues. Chandos’ superb sound quality, it was recorded at Potton Hall in Suffolk, restores the songs’ intimacy: we have mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton performing just for us. The songs are linked by the singer’s and composers’ connection to the Royal College of Music; the latter include Parry, Ireland, Bridge, Holst, Howells, Gurney, Moeran and Tippett. Connolly’s performance of the five songs in Britten’s A Charm of Lullabies is a highlight with the final A Nurse’s Song particularly memorable. A couple of texts appear twice: Thomas Dunhill’s setting of Yeats’ poem The Cloths of Heaven is outshone by Rebecca Clarke’s which find Connolly’s voice at its most sensuous and Middleton revelling in the elaborate piano part. Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Farewell, which was composed especially for this recording, provides the perfect poignant ending. Norman Stinchcombe